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@Home speeds access by phone

@Home Network plans to roll out high-speed Internet access over phone lines, not just cable networks.

@Home Network isn't just for cable television systems anymore.

@Home and Comcast, one of its cable TV partners, today announced they have chosen Philadelphia as the first market to deploy high-speed Internet access over phone lines, as reported by CNET on Friday.

@Home and Marcus Cable, the nation's ninth largest cable TV operator, also announced plans to deliver high-speed Net access services to more than 300,000 households in the Fort Worth, Texas, area by year's end.

Telco-return networks send "downstream" data over high-speed cable lines while "upstream" data travels over phone lines. That way, consumers still will be able to receive data at the higher speed, preserving their ability to get sound and pictures far more quickly than with today's standard analog phone modems or ISDN. Information, such as email, will still be sent at the slower analog speeds.

The cable industry recently has scaled back costly system upgrades because of financial pressures brought on by new competition. That predicament has forced @Home, owned by Comcast, Cox , and Tele-Communications Incorporated, to rethink its game plan, although it continues to roll out Net access over two-way cable systems in many markets.

In January, @Home said it might test the "telco-return" technology this spring, but a commercial rollout was not expected this quickly. A Philadelphia service, bypassing 350,000 homes, will be launched this summer, and the scaled-back technology is expected to spread to other markets. TCI, for one, has said it is considering launching "telco-return" in some markets.

"While a two-way cable delivery system provides the best medium for broadband service, @Home is committed to increasing deployments by leveraging multiple solutions," said company chief executive Tom Jermoluk in a statement. "Telco-return enables our cable partners to shorten time to market, extend market reach, and achieve an attractive return on investment as they continue to upgrade their cable plants."

The "telco-return" network gives the industry some breathing room while they upgrade their networks for the two-way cable delivery system.

Today's announcement was made at the week-long National Cable Television Association meeting in New Orleans, where @Home's will stress its ability to provide "multiple solutions" for high-speed Net access for the cable industry.

The company also is looking at another technology to lower the cost of hooking up apartment units to the Net, officials said. Data from @Home flows through a regional data center to an apartment complex over a two-way digital line at T1 speeds or greater. Dubbed MDU, for multiple dwelling unit, the system is akin to a business local-area network, officials said.

Cable faces stiff competition from the telcos in offering users high-speed Net access. The telcos' weapons include ISDN and xDSL. But the moneymaking potential from the rapidly growing market is worth the effort, the companies say.