Scientology's Reed Slatkin

New York Post
January 28, 2002

By Ben Silverman

EARTH calling EarthLink: Your customers are not happy.

Coming off a less-than-stellar fourth-quarter performance, the third-largest ISP in the U.S. faces a court battle in California that could extend nationwide.

Last week a California Superior Court judge denied EarthLink's attempt to dismiss a class-action lawsuit against the company launched by unhappy DSL subscribers.

Angry customers in California who claim that EarthLink misrepresented its ability to provide customers with high-speed access filed the complaint in September 2000. DSL customers complain that connection speeds sometimes barely rival those of dial-up users and that the company simply didn't have the technical capacity to handle its subscribers after blitzing California with ads.

Neither EarthLink nor Marc Godino, a lawyer for Stull, Stull & Brody, the law firm representing the class, would comment, citing ongoing litigation. But Godino told The Post that the suit has "the potential to extend nationwide."

The suit could be bad news for EarthLink, which saw its dial-up subscriber base remain flat last quarter. The company attributes the stagnation to its decision to raise monthly rates last year, which it said has also increased revenues.

On the broadband front, EarthLink increased its subscriber base by about 65,000 customers to 471,000. It also announced a deal last week that will position its high-speed service on Compaq's popular Presario line of computers.

EarthLink is banking on broadband growth to increase its subscriber base from about 4.8 million to 5.25 million this year, and the company said it will look to extend its cable ISP reach beyond its pact with AOL Time Warner to companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Cox.

But EarthLink observers say the real issue behind the company's low growth is customer service.

"They're not taking care of the customer, and that's their biggest problem," Matt LaPrairie, who runs the EarthLinkSucks.net Web site, told The Post. "One person is unhappy with service and they tell their friends. People are not signing up."

LaPrairie started EarthLinkSucks.net last spring to parody the company that once employed him as a DSL and local-area-network support specialist. But the site quickly turned into an online watchdog, sometimes helping customers who encountered problems with the company.

"People are paying $50 per month for a high-speed connection and they're not getting the service they need. The company oversold its DSL service, and it doesn't have the capacity to handle it,' LaPrairie said.

But EarthLink said it has won numerous customer-service awards - even expanding the area - and its churn, or loss of customers, is solely because of its price increase.



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