ISPs, Excite@Home Debate Access Claims


Chicago -- A technology catfight between cable and
telephone Internet-service providers has given a new twist to the politically charged
battle over "open access" to cable's data networks.

Cable ISP Excite@Home last week disparaged as
"misleading and disingenuous" the claim by GTE Corp., America Online Inc. and
others that they demonstrated an easy and inexpensive architecture for enabling multiple
ISPs to tap cable operators' high-speed-data-network capacity.

"The basic design is intrinsically flawed,"
Excite@Home stated in a lengthy rebuttal to the technology claims GTE made at a
Washington, D.C., news conference coinciding with the National Show.

"It creates a system in which multiple ISPs compete
for bandwidth and other resources with little ability for the cable operator to be
successful in meeting its commitments to ISP customers," Excite@Home added.

GTE said using existing technology -- a dynamic
provisioning application enabled by Redback Networks Inc.'s subscriber-management
system -- it conducted a two-month trial of an architecture enabling cable-modem customers
on its Clearwater, Fla., cable system to choose from several ISPs, including AOL and

Network providers use Redback's SMS at network-access
points, integrating with their databases to provide user authentication, authorization,
accounting and delivery of groomed Internet-protocol streams to routers for
Internet-backbone connectivity.

GTE said that in its trial -- which also used its existing
headend equipment from Nortel Networks and Cisco Systems Inc. -- the solution cost
amounted to about $60,000 per 80,000 homes passed.

The telco held up the trial as proof that allowing
cable-modem customers to choose their own ISPs -- instead of always having to use the
cable-data-service provider -- would not interfere with the management of the network or
its efficiency.

"GTE's demonstration pilot flatly discredits the
claim that open access and consumer choice are technologically complicated and
costly," GTE general counsel William Barr said in a news release.

"Using a simple, off-the-shelf device, GTE has shown
that there is a low-cost solution that is feasible, flexible, scalable and easy to
incorporate, giving consumers a real choice," Barr added.

Excite@Home quickly countered that deploying GTE's
solution on a broader scale than the demo would raise a host of technical issues that
rendered it significantly less efficient, more complicated and potentially more expensive
than the telco claimed.

"It's more complicated than just getting packets
from point A to point B," @Home Network chief technology officer Milo Medin said.
"My problem with GTE is that they said it's easy to do. I just don't think
that's credible."

Excite@Home said altering its architecture to enable
multiple ISPs to offer service to their separate customer bases over the same cable
network was possible.

However, it raised questions about how to effectively deal
with bandwidth usage, customer care, network management and provisioning of advanced
services such as streaming video and telephony.

For example, the company added, because the GTE
architecture was more consistent with the "point-to-point" structure of a telco
network, rather than the shared nature of a cable network, it would not be able to support
multicasting, IP telephony or streaming video.

"I don't see how it's possible to address
these issues without making changes to the CMTS [cable-modem-termination systems],"
Medin said. "Then you're talking about changes that would need to go into DOCSIS
[Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification]. There's no question you could come
up with proprietary modem solutions to make this easier, but that's not where the
industry wants to be."

The spitting contest was the latest outgrowth of attempts
by AOL and a number of telco ISPs to get a government mandate forcing cable operators to
open their high-speed-data networks to all ISPs, without requiring their customers to use
cable ISPs such as Excite@Home and Road Runner.