EarthLink chief talks fiber marketing strategy, FWA potential

EarthLink CEO Glenn Goad told Fierce the company sees an opportunity to compete on price rather than speed as consumers ditch their traditional cable bundles and look to right-size their internet service.

“Over the last two or three years, with unbundling and over the top, people are redefining what they want and expect out of their internet service provider. And I think EarthLink sits in a really unique position to help guide people through that equation,” he said.

EarthLink was founded in 1994 and is perhaps best known for its role as a dial-up provider in the early days of the internet. By 2000 it had 5 million subscribers. In 2017, the company was acquired by operator Windstream, and two years later was sold to private equity firm Trive Capital.

RELATED: Windstream unloads legacy EarthLink internet assets for $330M

These days, Goad told Fierce the company operates as a wholesale provider of fiber internet, riding on the networks of four major telecom partners. Those partnerships mean EarthLink has a massive reach: today, its service is available in 63% of homes and 75% of small businesses in the U.S., Goad said.

While some competitors are working to nudge consumers up to 1-gig speed tiers, Goad said EarthLink has a totally different strategy. “We want to deliver the right technology at the right price…the right technology really is the right speed,” he explained. Competitors are focused on advertising the fastest speed they have, but Goad said “not everybody needs one gig.”

“If you looked at our 1 gig price compared to somebody else’s 1 gig, you might say we’re more expensive…We’re going after a customer that the headset is 'I want the right speed at a price I can afford,'” he said. While plenty of customers buy 1 gig speeds “because they want the best and fastest…more of our customers are in that space of right-sizing their internet decisions.”

Beyond fiber

Goad said approximately half of its customer base is non-urban markets. While it currently uses DSL to serve some customers in more rural markets (accounting for less than 20% of its base), the CEO said developing fixed wireless access and satellite technologies could become viable options to upgrade service in these areas.

“We believe that fixed wireless, both 4G and 5G, are really good solutions for certain geographies in the country today, and that probably gets better over time. And we believe that satellite will become a viable product for consumers as well,” he said. “As we believe technologies are viable and they make sense, then you will see us entering into wholesale agreements with partners that have those types of technologies.