Somewhere along the way, someone stabbed a shiny pin into the balloon of Internet service providers as a growth industry.

Maybe it was when Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) ditched the AOL moniker -- and ticker symbol. Perhaps it happened when traditional access providers that were banking on big gains during the migration from dial-up to broadband Web usage suddenly found themselves on the short end as cable television companies such as Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and Cox (NYSE:COX) got to them first.

But you probably figured that it couldn't be a damaged sector. More people are online than ever before, and there is seemingly plenty of real estate left to cover. Shares of bargain access provider United Online (NASDAQ:UNTD) have been one of the top market performers over the past two years.

Now, if you're assuming that America Online's 2 million former subscribers have made the cost-conscious leap to such dial-up offerings as United Online's, where does that leave EarthLink (NASDAQ:ELNK)?

EarthLink has always been a heady competitor, even as everyone from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has rolled out online services. Where others have media empires to run, like United Online, Web access is not only EarthLink's bread and butter, but also the knife that spreads the latter on the former.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise to see EarthLink growing. It is looking to add 175,000 net new subscribers in the current quarter. That's on the high end of a range that started as low as 100,000 new users -- and before tacking on an additional 50,000 subscribers in a recent acquisition.

The company expects to be slightly ahead of breakeven for the quarter, and it's looking to build on that profitability in the coming year. With more than 5 million paying subscribers for its dial-up and broadband services and a stock price that has doubled off its February lows, EarthLink seems to be connecting more than just its users.

With United Online and EarthLink growing, how will AOL get its groove back? What's so optimized about version 9.0 of the company's software? All this and more -- in the Time Warner discussion board. Only on