Is one company's trash another firm's treasure?

EarthLink (NASDAQ:ELNK) is presumably interested in AOL's dwindling access business.

"We think it's worth aggressively pursuing," EarthLink CEO Rolla Huff told The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

Aggressively pursuing? Don't knock yourself out, Huff. You're probably the only one interested in AOL's dial-up business. Really. Save for a few cable and telco providers that bundle access with their flagship offerings, can you think of any other company besides EarthLink that would pay good money to go after a Web access play?

United Online (NASDAQ:UNTD) won't do it. The company behind the NetZero and Juno access services has been diversifying into Web content and real world plays like Classmates.com, MyPoints, and most recently florist lead-generator FTD. If anything, United would more likely be selling off access than buying it.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) would love to have AOL's Web properties and traffic, but they wouldn't want to touch the access side with a ten foot telephone pole.

If access is what Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) wants to sell, it will find itself in an empty bidding hall with EarthLink screaming "pick me, pick me," even if it's the sole attendee. Even if it is able to broker a deal to push AOL into the gut of either Microsoft or Yahoo!, the ISP appendage will probably be available for EarthLink at an attractive price.

I just hope that EarthLink knows what it's doing. The market liked the company's second-quarter report yesterday, sending shares 10% higher after the company was able to grow its earnings by aggressively cutting costs. The problem is that revenue fell by 21%. EarthLink may have become more adept at squeezing blood from a stone, but it's a shrinking stone. Snapping up access players is only a temporary solution.

United Online and Time Warner have communicated their intentions to diversify away from access. If you find that you are alone in the hunt for a fading business, maybe you should have your bidding card examined. At the very least, reconsider the definition of aggressive pursuit.

Other access stories to access:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if ISP stands for "It's So Profitless" to companies outside of EarthLink. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it's got some really funky hair in its high school yearbook picture.