RealTime IT News

Consumers Sorting Through Broadband Battles

The broadband battle between cable and digital subscriber line services to win the hearts and modems of the consumer Internet market is revving up. At the same time, a new survey shows consumers are giving DSL an early edge among high-speed alternatives.

Cable networks are being upgraded to handle two-way traffic at a furious pace and telecom companies are swiftening copper lines on a monumental scale. High-speed consumers should be satisfied with their choice of broadband access platforms.

But that's not how it works in the neonate broadband service arena. Consumers expecting quick installations to quality systems often get neither easy access nor top-notch connectivity.

Both cable and DSL services face a big challenge in meeting consumer expectations for broadband services. Several markets across the country, including Tennessee, have become scenes for struggles between cable companies and regional Bell telephone operators rolling out digital subscriber line offerings.

As rollouts and upgrades progress, many customers have complained they're not getting the high speeds and dependable service they initially thought would be the biggest attractions of cable or DSL. InterMedia, the Tennessee incumbent cable company and de facto @Home affiliate, has spent about $57 billion over the last three years to upgrade its cable infrastructure across the Nashville market, adding fiber-optic cables, lasers, amplifiers and other transmission enhancements.

During @Home's cable network upgrade in Tennessee, service disruptions left consumers disputing the company's claims to provide "always on" access.

Several TN @Home users lamented that they could not establish a connection for as long as 4-weeks, after having had cable modem services to their homes over a year.

Customers were further frustrated by 30 to 40-minute hold times when calling @Home technical support, and no support from the technicians when they did finally speak with a human being.

"We're upgrading ... Be patient," was @Home technical support's patented reply. While the news was unwelcome for cable subscribers, it did provide some additional business for BellSouth.

InterMedia sold its cable operations for $2.4 billion to Tele-Communications Inc. and Charter Communications (CHTR) in January 1999. Since AT&T Corp. (T) owns TCI, the telecom giant operates about 49 percent of InterMedia's cable operation, while Charter operates its mid-state presence in Clarksville, Kingsport, Cleveland and Alcoa.

BellSouth, the incumbent local exchange carrier in Tennessee has a low spectrum legacy issue to resolve in its central offices before it can ramp-up DSL services outside the state's metropolitan areas. Even then, distance limitations of DSL service mean that BellSouth can likely only serve about 40 percent of the state's residential market. Many of those who aren't eligible for DSL also find cable television service isn't available as well.

Jacqueline Russo, @Home spokesperson, said the Tennessee network upgrade is complete and that there would be no further service disruptions to cable modem services.

"All the Tennessee regional data centers have been upgraded and some additional upgrades for customers will take place with no effect to subscribers service," Russo said. "An additional cable router has been added to Nashville RDC. This will allow us to continue our growth in TN in a seamless fashion."

But the cable upgrade was not seamless and many customers who went with @Home as soon as it was available in the area began switching to BellSouth's DSL service if it was available in their area.

Karen Williams, BellSouth spokesperson, said anyt