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Internet

Industry Luminaries Back Cable Modem

ANAHEIM, CA--Cable Television Labs acting chair John Malone announced today at the Western Cable Show an industry-supported plan to create a set of cable modem protocols aimed at bringing broadband cable and data to home PCs.

"It seems obvious that we need to avoid proprietary solutions," said Malone. "What really matters is protocols. The guzintas and goesoutas have to be the same." Malone was joined at the announcement by officials from Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Zenith, Nortel, General Instruments, and Motorola.

"You can see on the show floor here the difference between 10 mbps accessed and 28.8 kbps accessed. There's no comparison. The kinds of applications will explode just as the Internet has exploded," said Malone. The form that these broadband cable modems will take will vary. The modems will come built into PCs or, according to Malone, "embodied in a separate communication systems that doesn't need Windows 95 to operate, or in some kind of cross-over device between a PC or a TV." When these cable modems come to market they will be available at retail outlets and through cable services, said Malone.

Ability to deliver broadband cable via high-speed modems will further blur the line between cable providers and computer companies, said Avram Miller, vice president of corporate business development for Intel. "Consumers are the most important part of our business right now; 10 million computers will be purchased by consumers in the U.S. this year," he said.

Miller said that providing broadband data links has been a crucial missing piece until now. "This is probably the most important thing both our industries could be doing right now."

Getting actual product to market, however, will still take some time. By next April, the final round of specifications should be hammered out, said Richard Green of CableLabs. Once that phase is completed, vendors and cable operators will begin providing versions of the cable modem to consumers. Once the modems hit store shelves in 1997, pricing is likely to be in the $200 to $300 range, said Green.

Under a comarketing agreement with Motorola, subscribers to America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe may be the first to benefit from broadband cable modem technology. "Obviously they will get the biggest pipes at the start," said Malone. He added that the Internet at large can't accommodate broadband data traffic as a whole. To get around that weakness, broadband data links will be limited to private backbone networks at least initially. "You'd have to build a new high-speed broadband Internet if you want this to work, " said Malone.

Malone allowed that bidirectional data flow will continue to be an issue for some time. For example, low-tech consumers will use lower-speed telephone lines to make the link to data networks. Once that link is made they will be able to receive movie or other data content at high speed.

Arlen Communications analyst Peter Krasilovsky said the cable industry is promoting cable modems to deflect attention from the fact that interactive television hasn't taken off the way the industry had hoped. "Cable modems are an interesting solution," said Krasilovsky, "But can they get them to work?"

In addition to problems with operating on larger networks, cable modems are still in the $600 price range. Krasilovsky said the cable industry has to get the price down to around $200. "The best way is to make sure there is an open standard," he said.