Metcalfe's column: It's Full Speed Ahead for CTM Internet service

Cable television modems (CTMs) offer always-on broadband Internet access for less than $US50 a month to a rapidly increasing number of our 100 million US homes.

If your home can get CTM Internet service, sign up. Most of the first one million CTM users are happy to have gotten rid of their mostly off narrowband dial-up modems.

If you can't get CTM service, call your cable operator and demand it. More than 30 million US homes are near ready for CTMs.

If your cable guy can't promise always-on broadband Internet access within, say, two years, pack up and move your home to somewhere serious about the Information Age. Vote with your feet.

My feet have just taken me home from Vortex99 in Laguna Niguel, California, where we discussed convergence of the Internet, telephone, and television networking industries (see www.vortex99.com). Vortex talks are off the record, so I'll summarise without naming names.

Clearly, the next big step in network convergence is residential always-on broadband Internet access.

There is confusion about the word "broadband". Some include ISDN's 128Kbps. I define it faster than 1Mbps.

There is a question of which will have more impact, the speed of broadband or its being always on.

The CEO of a leading telco told Vortex that his company intends to provide the Internet's first mile, last mile, and every mile in between. His new low price for DSL (digital subscriber line) is $30 a month, not counting associated telephone and Internet services. In the last year, his company has deployed half of DSL's current installed base, estimated to be 70,000.

The CEO of a chip supplier to CTM- and DSL-equipment providers says the technologies are equally promising, but CTM standards are further along. Modems that conform to the Data Over Cable Services Interface Specification are already shipping.

The CEO of a leading Internet switching-equipment company says last-quarter orders for CTM and DSL equipment jumped 60 per cent.

The CTO of a leading Internet service provider says CTM deployment is accelerating and has just passed one million. That means CTMs are ahead by about a 10-to-1 ratio over DSLs.

To name a name, Leo Hindery, president of AT&T Broadband and Internet Services, spoke at Vortex and again that day on the record for The Wall Street Journal. He said AT&T -- now merged with TCI, which owns much of @Home, which just bought Excite -- will not bundle content with its Internet services. AT&T is furiously investing billions in CTMs, backbones, caching, and navigation software to provide advanced Internet, telephone, and television services.

The chairman of a federal commission with jurisdiction told Vortex that he will not stop AT&T from deploying CTMs for Internet access or insist that AT&T let other ISPs resell its CTM services.

So, with AT&T leading, it's full speed ahead for CTMs.

My conclusion from Vortex99 is that DSLs are being deployed more slowly than CTMs. Why? Because local telephone companies are more secure in their monopolies than cable companies and have overpriced data revenues they'd prefer not to cannibalise.

Even when telopolies deploy broadband, they find their core competencies are not transmission and switching, or billing and support, but lobbying and litigation.

Many readers report they can get DSLs only in locales where CTMs are deployed. DSLs are going mostly to business users at speeds I wouldn't call broadband and at prices much higher than $50 a month -- so that T1 services can stay expensive.

With CTMs ahead of DSLs by about a 10:1 ratio, we'll be hearing a lot more about DSL from telopolies. If only they'd invest less energy in capturing regulators, lobbying legislatures, and clogging courts than in re-engineering their central offices for always-on broadband Internet access.

Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979. Send e-mail to metcalfe@idg.net or visit www.idg.net/metcalfe

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