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Andreessen: broadband is coming!

Is broadband Net access, enabled by high-speed technologies, cable TV, and an upgraded telephone network, just around the corner? Oh yes, says Marc Andreessen, vice president of technology for Netscape Communications.

NEW YORK--Is broadband Net access, enabled by high-speed technologies, cable TV, and an upgraded telephone network, just around the corner?

Yes, according to Marc Andreessen, vice president of technology for Netscape Communications and Web wunderkind, who outlined his vision of the Internet's future during his keynote speech here today at the Jupiter Communications Consumer Online Services III conference. The conference is a three-day event devoted to exploring Internet and broadband strategies for publishers and content developers.

Technology and competition will converge to drive high-bandwidth access to tens of millions of users in the next five years, said Andressen.

"Telecommunications reform, the Communications Decency Act aside, was the shot heard round the world. It will totally reshape the online world," said Andreessen. "There will be a mad scramble to provide the highest bandwidth to the most people."

As a result, bandwidth costs will sink like a stone since much of the technology, including 10 million miles of underutilized optic fiber, is already in place. "Cable coax network alone is a national treasure," Andreessen said.

The flood of bandwidth, Net software tools, and fully loaded PCs will revolutionize content, said Andreessen. It will push the cost of publishing on the Net to nearly zero and focus all attention on the creativity of the individual, he said. "Now is the time to start preparing for the high-bandwidth Internet because it's coming faster than you think," he advised content developers.

But several of Andreessen's fellow panelists on a conference round table called "Developing the Web for Consumer Media" that followed his keynote were less sanguine.

"We do think it's going to happen, but it will take time," said Russ Siegelman, vice president of the Microsoft Network (MSN). Siegelman predicted that only 20 percent to 30 percent of the MSN subscriber base will have high-speed access within the next five years.

David Garrison, president of Internet service provider Netcom, agreed. "If you're building content today, think of the reality of 28.8 for the next three years," Garrison said.

But Andreessen is not alone in his confidence about the near-term ubiquity of broadband access. James Phillips, vice president of Motorola, predicted that widespread cable access will be available within 18 months. Motorola announced a deal with Sun yesterday to help make its cable modems widely available.