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Remade Road Runner tries to be acme of broadband

Time Warner Cable redesigns the Web portal component of its Road Runner Net access service, the company's latest attempt to stave off competition from other broadband services.

Time Warner Cable has redesigned the Web portal component of its Road Runner high-speed Net access service, the company announced Friday, its latest attempt to stave off increasing competition from other broadband services.

This is the third reworking of the Road Runner Web site since the service was first established in 1996. The new release modifies the user interface so customers can custom-tailor the site. The company will also offer new security features using products from Computer Associates to provide free-downloadable antivirus, antispam and parental control software. The redesign will be rolled out nationwide starting Jan. 13.

As incumbent telephone companies, like SBC Communications and Verizon, more aggressively introduce DSL (digital subscriber line) services in Road Runner territories, Time Warner has been beefing up its service to retain and attract customers.

"It's true that competition is heating up," Jeff King, executive vice president, Time Warner Cable network services, and president of Road Runner, said during a conference call with reporters. "And we continue to improve and enhance our service, which should build loyalty among existing customers and attract new customers and broadband users."

Earlier this month, Time Warner Cable increased the maximum download speed for its broadband Internet customers to 3 megabits per second from 2mbps. In October, it began offering through a relationship with Movielink. The company has also slashed prices in certain markets to keep pace with DSL competitors. In Kansas City, Mo., it

Key to the new Road Runner service is the fact that it's customizable and allows for a local focus. Users are able to set up the site to provide stock information, daily horoscopes and local weather. The site also provides local news from affiliated Time Warner media outlets and from local news partners such as the Associated Press. The company has also added a Spanish-language page to appeal to Spanish-speaking customers.

Time Warner Cable opted to develop its own technology for the redesigned service rather than partner with existing providers, like America Online, which is owned by the same parent company as Time Warner Cable.

The Road Runner service uses Macromedia Flash technology and RealNetworks' Real 10 Media Delivery Platform and Helix media delivery and application software to manage and multicast audio and video. The service was designed and developed in cooperation with Fantasy Interactive, a company based in Stockholm, Sweden.

"AOL uses proprietary technology," said King. "It isn't that we don't like what AOL has done, but we wanted to be as competitive as possible. Macromedia Flash is standard technology, and it offered us many advantages."

Other broadband cable providers say they have comparable offerings. Comcast relaunched its site this past summer, including more personal customization, local content and added multimedia features.