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Cable services jumping

The cable television industry's foray into the high-speed Internet access market is picking up steam again with a spate of new launches.

The cable television industry's foray into the high-speed Internet access market is picking up steam again with a spate of new launches.

Continental Cablevision this week began offering the service in the Boston suburbs and Jacksonville, Florida. And company executives disclosed today that it will begin its "Highway 1" service in the Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles areas by year's end in one of the industry's most aggressive service launches.

Continental is charging customers $35 to $50 per month, with a one-time installation charge of $99. It is using cable modems from LANcity and General Instruments. The company's technology partners include Netscape Communications, Sun Microsystems, and Cisco Systems.

With the cable modem service, users surf the Net through a cable hookup to their PCs. The service is touted as being significantly faster than standard 28.8-kbps modems and ISDN connections now in use.

The price may be a barrier to many users, however, and cable TV also has to improve its record of reliability before the service becomes widespread, critics contend.

Continental is not alone in the suddenly fast-paced cable modem rollouts, which follow some long delays and missed deadlines. The @Home cable modem alliance is on track to offer service as early as November in Baltimore; Hartford, Connecticut; and Orange County, California. @Home is jointly owned by Tele-Communications Incorporated, Cox Communications, and Comcast.

In addition, Cox plans to launch its own Internet access service in Phoenix by December, executives said today. Trials already are under way.

Phone companies are gearing up their services as well. For example, Pacific Bell is testing a cable modem service in San Jose, California, with plans for a commercial launch by next year.

Despite the technology and marketing hurdles, the cable modem market's potential is enormous. A 25 percent sign-up rate among the @Home alliance could generate $2 million in revenue per year, although that estimate could be optimistic by industry estimates.

Time Warner also stands to make millions of dollars annually with the recent launch of its "Road Runner" high-speed Net access. The service has begun in Akron, Ohio.