Cox Puts Videoconferencing Back in View


In the wake of the Sept. 11 disaster and related bans on business travel, Cox Communications Inc. is revisiting videoconferencing — both for its own use and as a business-to-business solution.

The company demonstrated its chosen technology, from RoseTel System, last week at the Western Show here. It enabled a meeting of The California Channel's board that involved participants in Sacramento and Anaheim.

On a corporate level, Cox invested heavily on PictureTel Corp.'s videoconferencing technology during the 1990s, said Dick Waterman, vice president of government affairs for Cox's Orange County, Calif., system.

But Cox didn't use PictureTel more than once a year because it was "so herky-jerky and expensive," said Waterman.

RoseTel's product offers much higher quality, he said. It also uses standard inputs for such accessories as camcorders and TV sets, so Cox can cannibalize the original videoconferencing set-ups for use with the new vendor's suite.

The setup is easier to use, too. "You don't need three MIS guys on each end to use it," he said.

Its capabilities are also impressive, according to Waterman. For instance, the company has already helped a local marine biology class to "accompany" a scuba diver on his underwater dive.

"There are amazing things you can do with this technology," he said

Cox's Southern California cluster is pitching the videoconferencing services to local hospitals, businesses and school districts. The hardware is installed at its Rancho Santa Margarita office. The business-services division has already sold videoconferencing time to a major technology firm and the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, a sea life park that uses the technology for education.

Cox Business Services senior business consultant Joe Dunning said RoseTel's system is more cost-effective to operate than competitors' offerings. A hardware suite runs $6,600, plus cameras and televisions, $350 to $600 a month for a T-1 line and an 89-cents-per-minute time charge.

Competitors' per-minute charges range from $1.50 to $3.00, Dunning said.

Local schools who would use the technology for networked-learning applications have reacted positively. The districts must purchase the hardware suite, but Cox will sell them unlimited monthly use at a flat rate of $350, Dunning said.

Users have been attracted to such advancements as the ability of a speaker in at one end to control the remote on a VCR in the other location. Schools can use the technology in place of field trips that have been dropped from district budgets. For instance, the San Diego Zoo has installed the technology so equipped schools can "visit," said RoseTel co-founder Gary Kaufman.

After a year-and-a-half-long pilot, Kaufman said, the technology also has been installed in several San Diego government locations, including the mayor's office, the emergency-services office, schools, fire stations and libraries.