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Cable service to hit the road

Time Warner will achieve a first next month when it launches an online service powered by cable modems.

Time Warner Cable today became the first Internet service provider to announce the scheduled launch of a cable modem service, promising online access beginning next month for 300,000 subscribers in Ohio.

The service--appropriately named Road Runner by Time Warner--is planned to start September 10 in the cities of Akron and Canton, as reported Monday by CNET. The company has signed up the just-released Internet Explorer 3.0 from Microsoft as the preferred browser for the service, which will use Motorola cable modems.

"It's a long time between now and September 10, but we're tracking along quite nicely," said Bill Jasso, vice president of public affairs of Time Warner Cable's Northeast Ohio division.

Whether cable modems will represent the next generation of high-speed Internet access has been questioned recently, with delays in the Silicon Valley trial of startup @Home and the surge in popularity of ISDN technology, which uses digital phone lines. Cable modems deliver digital data through the cable television infrastructure at up to 10 mbps, far more than ISDN's 128-kbps limit.

"I'm a little bit surprised," said Rob Enderle, senior industry analyst at GIGA Information Group, a research company. "The fact that @Home is not first to market isn't going to reflect well on TCI." Cable giant Telecommunications Incorporated is a primary investor and major partner in @Home's planned service.

But a successful venture in Ohio could end up benefiting the entire industry, Enderle said, by steering investment money toward the platform.

Time Warner's service, which includes the lease of a cable modem, will be priced at a flat monthly fee of under $40, Jasso said. Specific pricing will be announced before the official launch.

In addition to the monthly fee, customers will pay a one-time installation charge that will range from $75 to $225, including the cost of a PC Ethernet card required by the service.

Time Warner cable will supply the online services, which include email, free Web-page hosting, and exclusive access to local and national proprietary content. Customers will have more than 80 sites to browse, covering local museums, sports teams, schools, government information, and the local zoo.

For national content, Excalibur--the new media division of Time Warner and creator of the sprawling Pathfinder site--is adding custom content.

Time Warner Cable is also readying online cable services in Portland, Maine and Binghamton, New York, but no specific launch dates have been set.

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