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Watchdog group targets DSL, cable

The California consumer group that has kept tabs on Pacific Bell's spotty ISDN rollout broadens its focus to include new high-speed Net consumer services.

The California consumer group that has served as one of the chief watchdogs over Pacific Bell's spotty ISDN rollout is broadening its focus to include the most popular new high-speed Internet consumer services.

The San Francisco-based California ISDN Users' Group has long been a thorn in Pacific Bell's side, helping state regulators to keep close watch over the progress of the telco's high-speed Net offerings.

But the group now says it will also examine the company's progress in offering digital subscriber lines (DSL), cable modem access, and broadband wireless technologies.

"ISDN is still important and is still the only real high-speed option for many of us," wrote chairman Bob Larribeau, in a message to the group's members. But since many businesses and a growing number of consumers are using the new services, the organization needs to expand its mandate, he said.

The group still will press Pacific Bell to improve its ISDN service, which continues to be the subject of consumers' complaints. Late last year, the state Public Utilities Commission fined the telco more than $300,000 due to poor quality of service, and set strict new quality guidelines.

But the group, renamed as the California Broadband Users' Group (CalBUG), will also work with cable, telephone, and wireless companies to help improve access options.

Larribeau said the new technologies don't yet have the problems experienced during Pacific Bell's ISDN rollouts. The advocacy group would likely be working in a less adversarial role unless this situation changes, he added.

"Everything could be done better," Larribeau said.

Pacific Bell's DSL capacity has been swamped after the company announced price cuts for the service and demand increased, he noted. Additionally, cable modem service is still impossible to get in most parts of San Francisco.

But despite these glitches, the future appears bright, he said.

"What we're seeing now is a competitive marketplace, and that is the only thing that is going to resolve the problems," Larribeau said. "We never felt that the CPUC [California Public Utilities Commission] was a really great substitute for that."

The group will hold a conference focusing on the new broadband technologies in Santa Clara, California, in June.