New Edge Networks, the business communications unit of EarthLink Inc., (NASDAQ: ELNK), today became the first telecommunications company to offer a new network service that allows businesses to tag and prioritize data traffic over DSL access using up to five MPLS classes of service.

New Edge previously announced plans in January to offer up to five classes of service over DSL and on Monday launched its service following nearly three months of successful testing. Until now, data traffic tagging and prioritization with true classes of service were available only on more costly T1 lines with MPLS.

New Edge offers its new service directly and through selling partners nationally in most areas where DSL is available.

“This breakthrough service helps small and midsize businesses avoid network congestion problems due to the convergence of communications applications such as VoIP phone calls and other latency-sensitive services over DSL access,” says Greg Griffiths, vice president of marketing for New Edge Networks. “Network bottlenecks and data traffic congestion bog down application performance and business productivity.”

To stay competitive, small and midsize businesses are deploying a myriad of new applications to drive efficiency, improve customer service, and enhance profitability. But as applications and data traffic mount, a business is faced with the need to get more bandwidth or better throughput. Many businesses are deferring desirable applications because they cannot yet make a business case to step up to the next performance level, which is usually a T1 line with MPLS.

“MPLS with class of service over DSL closes the large pricing gap between traditional business-class DSL and a full T1 line,” Griffiths says. “It also allows businesses to add additional applications over their DSL-based network without the risk of compromising performance.”

New Edge is pricing its new service with a $100 premium over the cost of a fully managed DSL-based private network, which averages about $140 a month, per location. This price step-up includes bandwidth optimization with up to five classes of service over DSL access, improved service level guarantees, and a Cisco router upgrade.

In contrast, the monthly cost for a T1 line can start at about $500, depending on distance and geographic area. With some carriers, MPLS classes of service and T1 network management are added options.

With MPLS class of service over DSL, businesses can hold down their monthly communications costs while optimizing use of high-speed, low-cost DSL access commonly used for wide area networks.

“MPLS over DSL also is an attractive cost-saving option for businesses that previously were forced to use T1 at all locations,” Griffiths says. “Now businesses can mix and match access technologies based on the specific needs at each location without compromising the value of key MPLS benefits.”