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AT&T to Test Shared Cable Access

AT&T Cable Services Wednesday announced plans to launch its first U.S. trial of shared access to its hybrid fiber-coax network in November.

The stage is set for the six-month trial to resolve operational issues inherent with shared cable access in Boulder, Colo.

Dubbed AT&T Broadband Choice, the trial will allow up to 500 consumers in the Denver area to access AT&T and Excite@Home's collaborative high-speed cable access through their Internet service provider of choice.

Dan Somers, AT&T Broadband president and chief executive officer, said the trial demonstrates AT&T's leadership in the area of broadband choice.

"We were the first company in our industry to commit to choice, we were first to agree to a set of principles with an unaffiliated ISP to provide connectivity, and now we're first to commit to a technical trial," Somers said.

George Bell, Excite@Home chairman and chief executive officer said the test market demonstrates that its infrastructure is available to help partners such as AT&T deliver high-speed services to multiple ISPs.

"It's a post-exclusivity environment," Bell said. "We look forward to working with AT&T as well as other ISPs, relying on our more than five years experience in scaling, handling large volumes of users and data, and managing broadband networks."

Richard Varnes, City of Boulder telecommunications coordinator, said the trial was exciting news for the online community in the area.

"With its technology emphasis and high Internet usage, we think Boulder will make an ideal test bed for the trial," Varnes said. "The city's recent study of community cable TV needs indicates that ISP choice is a high priority in the community and we see this as an important step in that direction."

Susan Marshall, AT&T Broadband senior vice president of data services, said the issues of ISP choice presents barriers to effective use of its network which the company is striving to overcome.

"ISP choice presents unique challenges for the owners of hybrid fiber-coaxial networks," Marshall said. "Our trial is designed to demonstrate how best to meet these challenges."

As part of AT&T Broadband Choice, AT&T will create a special software package that customers must install on their computers. The service agent will allow trial participants to manage several aspects of their Internet connection.

Ideally, testers will be able to use the AT&T broadband service agent to select one or more ISPs, specify which connection speed they want, change the connection speed later, and adjust speeds to match the capabilities of devices they own.

Marshall said a lot of effort and preparation has been exerted to develop the service agent and offer shared access.

"A lot of thought and work has gone into preparing for this trial," Marshall said. "We believe our strategy of creating the service agent is an excellent way to allow for ISP choice by consumers and, at the same time, give ISPs the control they need to tailor their services to consumer needs."

AT&T Broadband sent offers to 10 national and regional ISPs seeking their participation in the test market. America Online Inc. , Dell.net, Denver News of The Denver Post-Tribune, Excite@Home, Juno Inc. , EarthLink Inc. owned MindSpring Enterprises, Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, RMI.net