Internet Service Providers

EarthLink leads by being flexible

No Internet service provider is more deserving of a top spot in the ISP category than EarthLink. A combination of two hard-working providers, EarthLink and MindSpring, No. 1 fights hard to become a real alternative to America Online.

EarthLink has built its business on being a service company as flexible as the Net itself, and its long-term strategy to cater to more sophisticated users is bound to pay off big once the novelty of being online wears off in another five years.

It is telling that no free ISPs are at the top of the heap, having fallen victim to declining online advertising revenue and hard times for experimental business models. Still, free ISPs may make a comeback as more Old Economy companies, like American Express, discover the value of target-marketing their customers through an Internet connection they control.

But for now, traditional ISPs seem to rule the consumer universe. [email protected] presence in the category is a good indication of the significant extent of the inroads that cable-modem service has made into the consumer broadband market. Major cable systems are expected to open to competing ISPs later this year, allowing them to resell cable-modem service as readily as DSL service was sold.

But all in all, the message of these ISP rankings is clear: Stay technology-agnostic, stick with customer service, focus on new customer-friendly technologies and ISP stardom may await just around the corner.