AT&T Kicks Off Broadband Choice ISP Trial

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AT&T Broadband took another step towards opening up its high-speed grid to rival Internet service providers last week when it connected the first set of customers to its "AT&T Broadband Choice" technical trial in Boulder, Colo.

The test will eventually involve as many as 500 customers. Because the trial is technical in nature, those subscribers will use the service for free.

The MSO said eight ISPs, including its in-house provider, Excite@Home Corp., are participating in the trial. The others are EarthLink Network Inc., Juno Online Services Inc., AT&T Corp.'s WorldNet Communications Inc., Winfire Inc., Flashcom Inc., RMI.Net Inc. and FriendlyWorks Inc., a senior-friendly ISP.

In June, AT&T Broadband also sent letters to America Online Inc., Dell.net, Denver News (Denver Post-Tribune), Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Yahoo! Inc. to gauge their interest in the trial. All of those ISPs declined based on their own specific business decisions, AT&T Broadband spokeswoman Sarah Duisik said.

Time Warner Cable is also conducting a multiple-ISP trial in Columbus, Ohio with 50 CompuServe and 50 Time Warner employees. In addition to Road Runner, the MSO's predominant cable-modem ISP, AOL, CompuServe, Juno and RMI.net are among the announced participants.

At present, Juno is the only ISP to sign a deal with Time Warner that involves future "open-access" deployments. Time Warner has said it hopes to migrate to open access even before its exclusive arrangement with Road Runner expires in December 2001.

So far, AT&T Broadband, whose exclusive relationship with Excite@Home runs through the middle of 2002, has sunk $20 million into the Boulder test to fund the development of technology that handles traffic from multiple ISPs over its hybrid fiber-coaxial network. Part of that money was spent creating systems to foster customer-provisioning and billing.

AT&T Labs designed the trial's "service-agent" software application, which allows customers to select their ISP and specify or change connection speeds, and features built- in diagnostic and customer care tools. About 50 AT&T employees have worked on the development of AT&T Broadband Choice, the company said.

AT&T Broadband said it will glean findings and results from the Boulder trials and use them for another multiple-ISP trial that's being planned for Massachusetts next year. That's planned for the fall, but, depending on the results in Boulder, could be pushed up, Duisik said.

Though multiple ISP access doesn't require fundamental changes to basic HFC infrastructure, preparing the network for the additional traffic and installing a routing system that determines which IP packets are flowing to and from a particular ISP requires a sizable amount of work.

Both AT&T Broadband and Time Warner have taken the suggestions of Cable Television Laboratories Inc. and installed "policy-based routing" for their open-access trials.

Though Time Warner is using policy-based routing in Columbus, it plans to try out alternative open-access protocols before determining which will be employed nationwide. Other protocols such as "tunneling," network-address translation (NAT) and native Internet protocol have also been explored.

In written responses submitted to the Federal Communications Commission on August 25 related to its pending merger with AOL, Time Warner said it plans to test a number of alternative open-access protocols before determining which will be used nationwide.

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