If America Online's new cable-grown executive is any
indication of things to come, the nation's largest online provider will seek a harmonious,
and not a regulation-induced, foray into broadband.
Mario Vecchi, a former Road Runner and Time Warner Cable
executive who joined AOL as its new vice president of broadband development earlier this
month, said last week that he's still learning his away around AOL, but that things are
looking good for some kind of AOL/cable link.
"It's clear to me that AOL is very serious about
high-speed data," Vecchi said. "Myself, I continue to be very bullish on cable,
as a digital broadband platform."
When asked whether he thinks AOL will regulate itself into
cable, or enter broadband via acquisitions, Vecchi said that, "I don't think AOL is
particularly interested in having a confrontation with anybody."
Instead, he offered up a third alternative: partnerships,
on a per-market basis. Those partnerships, he said, may not be at all cable-exclusive;
instead, AOL is equally interested in telco ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line)
and even VSAT satellite techniques, for very rural areas.
Vecchi declined to discuss speculation among analysts that
AOL would enter talks to acquire @Home Network and some small turnkey high-speed data
AOL's pursuit of cable isn't new, but rather, renewed. In
the early cable modem trials of 1994, and specifically those conducted by the defunct
Viacom Cable and Comcast Corp., AOL figured in heavily. Since then, AOL's cable interests
died down, as it pursued personal computer owners as subscribers. The establishment of
Vecchi's newly created position underscores that renewed focus.
Vecchi said he wasn't sure what AOL applications would
really flourish with broadband -- just as he received the familiar "instant
message" jingle during the interview (it was his wife).
"[Instant messaging] does create a different way of
thinking," Vecchi said of what is perhaps AOL's internal killer application.
"It's a way of establishing a quick communication with someone that is very