Earthlink was founded in 1993 by Sky Dayton in the Los Angeles area. Earthlink started with major investments from Kevin O'Donnell and Reed Slatkin, both Scientologists. They began with only 10 modems providing a local dialup internet service. Founder Sky Dayton is also a member of the church of Scientology. In EarthLink's early days, some employees objected to the company's Scientology techniques and the company was criticized for its links to the Church's role in cases involving free speech on the Internet.

By 1995, Earthlink had expanded to 98 cities through an agreement with UUNET Technologies. Then in 1996 Charles (Garry) Betty became CEO of the company. Later in 1996 an agreement with PSINet allowed them to offer service to nearly every city in the U.S. and throughout Canada. Once Betty, a Southern Baptist became CEO, much of the Scientology techniques for handling employees became much less emphasized and Dayton's role diminished in the day-to-day operation of the company.

EarthLink goes public on NASDAQ in January 1997 and is traded under the symbol ELNK. Then in February 1998, Sprint Corporation and Earthlink announced "a long-term strategic alliance to create a single, unified Internet service". The two companies never officially merged, but during this time and the following year Sprint purchased copious amounts of the ELNK stock, eventually leading to a 30% ownership stake and two positions for Sprint executives on the Earthlink board. This alliance with Sprint put EarthLink on the map from both an industry and financial perspective.

In July 1999 Dayton gave up his role as Chairman of Earthlink and announced the startup of eCompanies, a venture capital fund and incubator. Later that year, Earthlink and Mindspring announced a merger agreement.

On February 4, 2000 MindSpring Enterprises and EarthLink Network merged, creating the second largest ISP in the United States serving over three million customers. The new company is called EarthLink and is headquartered in the current MindSpring offices in Atlanta, Georgia. On August 2, 2000, Sky Dayton was back and elevated to Chairman of the Board of the merged company.

Beginning in 2000 Sprint turned down its option to purchase the remaining 70% of the company and Sprint began to divest itself (partially as a result of the announced MCI/Sprint merger). By February 2001 Sprint had agreed to end its exclusive agreements and relinquish its seats on Earthlink's Board of Directors. The two companies still maintain business agreements whereby Sprint's customers are offered Earthlink dial-up services and Earthlink dialup subscribers are offered Sprint long distance and PCS services.

Even though Earthlink has now become a huge corporation the Church of Scientology still seems to be intimately connected to Earthlink. As late as November 11, 2001 search results for the keyword "Scientology" on the www.earthlink.com web page were skewed to show only pro-Scientology pages. Earthlink was retrieving its search information from www.overture.com, but similar searches on Overture returned different results.

In court documents from Santa Monica on August 5, 1999 a Mr. Robert J. Cipriano, former Earthlink employee, made a declaration that among other things claimed that "The Church of Scientology now had a database of information on every subscriber which included names, credit card info., credit reports, telephone info., computer info., who had referred them to Earthlink and who were their previous ISP providers."

It's unclear now exactly how much influence the Church of Scientology still has on Earthlink's day-to-day operations. There are still many practicing Scientologists that are prominent investors and managers at the company, but the company maintains that the Church of Scientology is a separate organization and they are doing some things to distance themselves from Scientology.

Earthlink is now the largest independent internet service provider in the world with over 4.8 million subscribers paying $21.95/month. Besides its traditional dial-up service, Earthlink also provides broadband access with DSL, cable, satellite, and even mobile offerings.


Sources:
http://www.sprint.com
http://www.fcc.gov
http://www.earthlink.net
http://www.lermanet.com/reference/cipriano.htm
http://www.deirdre.org/scnverses/earthlink.html
http://www.factnet.org

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