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Comcast launches broadband portal

The cable operator introduces a new broadband portal aimed to reach a larger audience outside of its current base of cable modem users.

Cable operator Comcast, one of the chief partners in cable modem service @Home, has launched a new "broadband portal" aimed to reach a larger audience outside of its current base of cable modem users.

Comcast's new OnBroadband.com is a multimedia website aimed at ISDN, digital subscriber line (DSL), leased line, and wireless or satellite Internet users, in addition to being available to cable modem users and subscribers of the high-speed data-over-cable service @Home.

Last year, portal madness ran rampant on the Web as Net directories such as Yahoo, Excite, and Lycos fought hard to attract users to their sites.

But users--as well as advertisers--are often disgruntled by the limitations of Internet access at current dial-up speeds, and are anxious for higher-speed alternatives, such as cable modems and DSL, to take hold.

An avenue to advertising
Comcast's Internet division, Comcast Online Communications, is pitching the new broadband portal site as a content complement to the @Home service, which has a similar portal-like startup page.

Comcast said the site initially will link to many other broadband sites, and will evolve into a multimedia content site featuring news, live music, multi-player games, and e-commerce offerings, including video enhanced shopping. Comcast has principal ownership of television retailer QVC.

At the end of October, Comcast had about 41,000 @Home subscribers with expectations for about 50,000 by the end of 1998, according to Comcast investor relations director Marlene Dooner.

Of @Home's 18 cable partners, Comcast has been one of the fastest at rolling out high-speed Internet-over-cable service. Comcast adds roughly 1,000 new customers per week, said @Home spokesman Matt Wolfrom.

Although cable modem use is growing rapidly and is expected to expand this year when standards-based cable modems become available in retail stores, the move allows Comcast to tap into a larger pool of users, as well as a higher profit-margin advertising niche.

"There's a void out there for the growing number of people who have a broadband connection but may not have access to the kind of rich media content that @Home provides," said Richard Rasmus, Comcast's vice president of online services.

Comcast estimates there are about 1 million U.S. residential users with some sort of broadband connection, with that number expected to double this year. The new site gives the cable operator access to far more users than its 50,000 subscribers to Comcast@Home.

"Ultimately content will drive broadband adoption--but it's a question of how are they [Comcast] are going to drive customers to the site other than their existing customers," said Joe Bartlett, director of Internet market strategies for The Yankee Group. "It's a niche of a niche at this point."

Comcast could, in effect, compete with partner @Home for national advertising dollars--@Home announced a similar bandwidth hungry "rich media" advertising strategy when it acquired Narrative Communications last month.

But @Home said there is little reason for concern: "If there's more broadband content, great," Wolfrom said, adding anything that increases demand for higher-bandwidth services is good for the industry as a whole.

Comcast, which has a controlling interest in QVC and E! Entertainment television, is the fourth-largest cable television operator with more than 4.4 million subscribers.

The company, which went public in 1972, has a strong presence in Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, and Southern California and also provides service in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina. In 1997, Microsoft made a $1 billion investment in the cable company.

The software giant has made several investments in bandwidth providers, such as Comcast and more recently Qwest Communications International.

The company's broadband investments have been aimed largely at getting its high-end Windows NT--now called Windows 2000--operating system into the corporate market. Microsoft also recently unveiled a plan to get cable operators, such as Comcast, to use a Windows NT-based product designed for entertainment and data services offerings.