Cox, Excite@Home Set Interactive-TV Trial

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Cox Communications Inc. and Excite@Home Corp. last week said they would start a consumer trial of interactive-television services in San Diego later this year.

Excite@Home will provide Internet-access and Web-portal services to television sets through advanced digital set-top boxes from Scientific-Atlanta Inc.

Elsewhere, Cox and other MSOs will be able to deliver the service to different advanced digital boxes from suppliers such as Motorola Broadband Communications Sector.

Cox spokeswoman Amy Cohn said the MSO would begin with a technical trial in employee homes sometime in the third quarter to make sure the customer interface works as planned. A deployment to about 2,000 "Cox Digital Cable" customers will follow in the fourth quarter.

In addition to electronic mail, electronic commerce and Web browsing, Excite@Home plans to deliver proprietary content that leverages its current partnerships, vice president of engineering Jeff Huber said.

Content from Bloomberg Television, Cable News Network and Comedy Central will be offered either during the technical trials or in early commercial deployments, he added.

Cox and Excite@Home plan to test consumer pricing, Huber said, who added that he expects some services to be offered free-of-charge. Excite@Home will try out a premium-subscription fee for other services, just as cable operators do with video programming.

MSOs will offer both remote controls and wireless keyboards for use with the service. Excite@Home wants to make 99 percent of the interactive-television applications accessible through simple television remote controls, said Huber, but communications applications such as e-mail would require a keyboard.

Excite@Home previously announced that it was working with Liberate Technologies on the middleware for its interactive-television service. The company also announced that AT & T Broadband plans to deploy the service.

Huber expects both current customers and nonsubscribers of the PC-based Excite@Home broadband service to opt for the interactive-television offering. Current Excite@Home customers would benefit from the ability to migrate their online preferences, including buddy lists or stock portfolios, between the PC and the television, he added.

"We're pretty confident that customers are going to like this," Cohn said.

Excite@Home is not the only company targeting the interactive-television market. America Online Inc. plans to introduce its "AOL TV" service at retail this summer, with a launch on DirecTV Inc.'s direct-broadcast-satellite platform slated for later this year.

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