The initial flag-waving aside, Ameritech Corp. is being
matter-of-fact about its coming cable-modem access trial using multiple Internet service
The one-month trial admittedly is a limited, technical
undertaking, using about 300 friendly users in one of the competitive overbuilder's
Chicago-area Americast cable systems and providing access to a choice of only two ISPs:
America Online Inc. or Ameritech.net.
But Ameritech, like other proponents of leased access to
cable's new data networks, believes it will not take any extraordinary knowhow to offer
subscribers a choice of ISPs without experiencing the service degradation that critics
such as Excite@Home have said would result.
"There's no magic in the architecture," said Dave
Mahachek, vice president of operations and engineering for Ameritech New Media, pointing
to telco GTE Corp.'s June announcement of a successful "open access" trial in
its Clearwater, Fla., cable system with America Online and others.
"I think GTE is right on the nose with what they're
doing," Mahachek said. "Is it a little more difficult? Certainly. Is there more
cost? Certainly. But you have to look at that in terms of the end value to
Ameritech announced the trial in conjunction with the
launch of its long-delayed digital-subscriber-line deployment. It plans to offer DSL to 3
million homes in its upper Midwest region by the end of this year.
The Chicago-based Baby Bell made it clear that while one
goal is to move toward commercial cable-modem-service deployment, it was taking the
opportunity to address critics who have complained that efficiently putting multiple ISPs
on a shared cable channel will carry a high level of technical difficulty and cost.
"The primary objective is to demonstrate once and for
all [that] a cable company can offer service to more than one ISP," said Tom
Richards, Ameritech's executive vice president of communications and information products.
"We don't buy the position that it's technically not feasible to provide access to
more than one ISP."
Richards and other executives said they believe that by
limiting node sizes to 500 homes passed, Ameritech would not suffer the problems critics
said would result from having to provision and manage customers of different ISPs over the
same 6 MHz cable channel.
Some analysts agreed that the technical issue should not be
an obstacle to open access. They said Ameritech's strategic intent was of greater
"What's far more interesting is that Ameritech is
serious about rolling out cable modem services across its service area," said Michael
Harris of Kinetic Strategies Inc. "But is it just a PR play or are they going to
offer the advantages of this platform to cable customers as part of a bundled
Mahacheck said in an interview that all of ANM's two-way,
overbuilt cable systems had been constructed in anticipation that the telco would create
footprints covering broad areas, with fiber rings and ubiquitous data networks that he
said make it easy to collect data traffic to common interface points.
"We've also done field trials with CMTS and
cable-modem providers on a small scale to validate data collection and transmission as
well as to make sure the two-way networks are as tight and clean on the reverse channel
bandwidth as we think they are," Mahachek said. "Those tests have been better
Acknowledging that Ameritech will have to deal with the
service management layer between the ISPs and its own cable-modem termination system
devices, Mahachek added "there's plenty of players to help us implement solutions to
that" such as Redback Networks Inc., which provided network management gear to GTE's
Besides open access, Ameritech also wants to test cable
modems from a yet-to-be determined vendor based on the Data Over Cable Service Interface
Specification 1.1, which includes quality of service protocols enabling guaranteed
bandwidth and other advanced features.
Cable Television Labs Inc. is not expected to begin
interoperability certification of DOCSIS 1.1 modems until early next year, although
several vendors such as Motorola Inc. have said they will move ahead with 1.1-compatible
product in advance, due to MSO requests.
"We have no intentions to go out to wide deployment
without quality of service," Mahachek said. "That's one of the reasons we've
been waiting all along, to let the technology catch up with the type of service the market
wants here. We don't want to be an early bleeder."
Excite@Home quickly branded the trial announcement as
politically motivated. It argued that Ameritech was saying that it can deal with cable
open-access technology questions while complaining to the FCC that technical issues
related to mandated phone-system line sharing will take years to solve.