Backtalk: Broadbands Evangelists

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Cable, for a bevy of reasons too boring and arcane to tickoff here, has, for the most part, been pretty lame when it comes to telling its own story,let alone strutting its stuff.

Refreshingly, that born-under-a-bad-star curse seems to belifting on several fronts, particularly with the recent creation of the Cable BroadbandSolutions Forum.

That group, which just incorporated as a nonprofit company,pulls together high-level executives from Tele-Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable,Comcast Corp. and MediaOne, as well as @Home Network.

In addition, the group has invited and gotten acceptancesfrom a number of vendors and service providers in the cable-modem arena to shore up thecause from their respective ends.

The group coalesced at the Western Show in December, and itplans to release an action plan during the National Show in Atlanta in May, at an"official coming-out party."

Its mission is clear: to combat the telco camp, which istrying to build momentum and generate glowing ink for its ADSL (asymmetrical digitalsubscriber line) announcements.

Cable's broadband evangelists, if you will, arecountering those announcements head-on and doing a little counterspinning of their ownalong the way.

The mission is to convince consumers that cable-modem-basedservices are superior and more imminent -- they're already here -- than ADSLtechnologies, which, for the most part, are still in the press-release stage.

Among the telcos that have recently announced their plansto rapidly deploy ADSL this year are BellSouth Corp., Pacific Bell and U S West Inc.

Those telco announcements have created an anti-cable stir,to some degree, with Wall Street analysts and the media now wondering if cable is fallingshort on its promises of delivering high-speed Internet access and, in the end, ifcable's progress will be eclipsed by the deeper-pocketed telcos.

In fact, Stephen R. Effros, president of the CableTelecommunications Association, recently wrote a letter to Multichannel News, whichwe published in the March 9 issue, reminding us that many telco announcements are justthat -- announcements -- and that cable is ahead in this race.

And while cable might look like it is deploying cable-modemtechnology at a snail's pace, that pace is deliberate, with testing to assure qualitycontrol, he aptly pointed out.

Members of the CBSF are the first to admit that they have apublic-relations problem, and that general consumer awareness is at unacceptably lowlevels.

The group is trying to demystify some of the techno-garbleand make the technology relevant and exciting for mass consumption.

By the National Show, we're likely to hear about somePR and marketing campaigns that are not company-specific, but that are more reflective ofthe cable industry at large.

This will be most interesting to see unfold. Plain oldcable has, over the years, spent millions of dollars on pointless national PR campaigns.

In the end, those campaigns were abandoned or fine-tuned toreflect specific brands or products that consumers could relate to, which is what theyshould have been in the first place.

That's what the CBSF now faces. And unfortunately, itsname in itself carries no resonance in consumer circles.

"Broadband," a word that we bandy about in theindustry and in just about every article in this newspaper, means absolutely nothing tothe world at large.

The word is not even found in mostdictionaries, and that is part of the problem.

O

1998 Multichannel News

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