After a rather tumultuous end to 2007 when Internet fax provider j2 Global (Nasdaq: JCOM) saw certain subscribers' usage of its services -- and its stock price -- tumble, things appear to be stabilizing. In its first-quarter earnings report, the integrated communications service provider happily noted that particular customer usage trends have improved from those seen late last year.

Overall, j2 Global saw revenue rise 8% to $58.6 million in the first quarter. Certainly, 8% growth is nothing to be excited about, considering past years have clocked in top-line growth in excess of 20%. But the underlying growth in subscriber revenue, which makes up the vast majority of sales, was a more significant 14%. The company's credit-sensitive customers -- many of whom are in the mortgage and finance industries -- have collectively reversed their downward trend and actually increased usage from last quarter.

Increasing costs took a bigger bite out of net income, however, which only rose 2% to $16.8 million this quarter. The nice part about this, though, is that an aggressive share buyback plan that gobbled up 3.5 million shares in the quarter effectively gave investors a 9% increase in earnings per share.

Just about every telecom company out there -- from AT&T (NYSE: T) to Verizon (NYSE: VZ) to Qwest (NYSE: Q) -- has been scrutinizing just what impact the economy has had on signing up and keeping subscribers. While j2 Global provides more unique unified communications services, it, too, is exposed to business downsizing. j2 Global also isn't necessarily going for low-cost communication alternatives like Vonage (NYSE: VG) or eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) Skype platform -- customers pay a healthy premium for the company's digital fax service.

So it's nice to see that, absent any economic winds pressuring business as a whole, j2 Global shows to be a consistent growth engine. But I wouldn't count on a smooth ride from here on out. The economic picture is still hazy and could easily return to a southern trajectory, possibly even more severe than has already been seen. And I'd like to see j2 show better profit growth in future quarters that's more in line with or above revenue, as it has been in the past.

Overall, I expect j2 Global's unique integrated communications offerings to be a winner in the long run. It just might be a rough road along the way.

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Fool contributor Dave Mock owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Dave is the author of The Qualcomm Equation. j2 Global is a Pay Dirt recommendation. eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy rewards patience and obedience with hot dogs and Scooby Snacks.