There's hope for the little guy in the Excite@Home bankruptcy proceedings. As long as he isn't a shareholder.

On Friday a bankruptcy judge ruled that the ailing company is free to shut down the high-speed Internet access service it markets through cable television operators -- a prospect that Excite@Home's 4 million customers have seen looming for weeks.

But a spokeswoman for

Cox Communications


, one of the cable operators that had sought to prevent Excite@Home from pulling the plug, said Friday afternoon that parties to the case were negotiating an "interim resolution" that would forestall the shutdown that Excite@Home said could come as early as midnight Friday.

"We're hoping a resolution can be reached quickly," said the Cox spokeswoman, Ellen East. Cox customers account for 555,000 of Excite@Home's users, she said.

Though the eleventh-hour negotiations mean good news for Excite@Home's customers, the company's remaining shareholders seem to be taking the news a little too well. The company's shares, recently delisted from the Nasdaq, rose 31% Friday, as reported on the pink sheets -- specifically, from 3.5 cents a share to 4.6 cents.

That gain, modest in absolute terms, is based on the unlikely possibility that the improved negotiating stance enabled by the judge's ruling will trickle down to shareholders.

But with the company declaring $1.1 billion in debt and holding just $150 million in cash at the time of its bankruptcy filing in September, those pennies have a long way to trickle before they evaporate. Typically, shareholders in a company that files for Chapter 11 protection get nothing.

Ahead of shareholders are bondholders who fought for the judge's Friday decision; they're hoping to get a better deal for the company than the $307 million that Excite@Home majority shareholder


(T) - Get Report

has offered for the company's assets.

Whatever happens, East made it clear that Cox's long-term goal is to move the broadband Internet customers it serves through Excite@Home and

AOL Time Warner's


Road Runner service to an in-house operation.

High-speed Internet over cable is far from dead, agrees venture capitalist Jack Harrington, a general partner with Advanced Technology Ventures. It's just undergoing a transition as cable TV system operators try to recapture the increasingly attractive business from outsiders. "It's inevitable that the individual cable companies want to do their own thing," he says.