Los Angeles -- The rollout of bundled services by Cox
Communications Inc. in Orange County, Calif., has hit some potholes caused by consumer and
municipal concern over "those darn boxes."
Not set-tops -- the sizable ones that sit in public rights
of way, providing backup power for video, Internet services and telephony should the area
experience power outages or, in this earthquake belt, natural disasters.
Cox's business plan calls for auxiliary power
supplies. These vaults are designed to back up more services for a longer amount of time,
so they are powered by natural gas, rather than the battery backup used for video-only
Virtually as soon as the vaults -- which are designed to
generate 7.5 kilowatts of power in an emergency -- went into the upscale communities where
Cox is delivering bundled services, the complaint calls began to city halls throughout the
According to Bob Goldin, community-development planner of
Lake Forest, Calif., homeowners beefed about the noise of the periodic tests of the backup
power, the appearance of the boxes and possible safety hazards. What if a car were to hit
one and shear open the gas supply?
Because of homeowner concerns, Lake Forest passed an
ordinance earlier this year to restrict the size and placement of the vaults. Neighboring
communities, including Dana Point and San Clemente, also expressed concern about the
"Before they deployed any, we called Cox," San
Clemente city clerk Myrna Erway said, adding that city officials were made aware of the
concerns in Lake Forest. Regulators don't want to do anything to foil competition,
she said, but they appreciate the safety and aesthetic concerns about the vaults.
In response, Cox has altered its order from Alpha
Technologies Inc. Backup vaults will be powered by a smaller power plant, capable of only
2.7 kW. They measure 45 inches in height by 26.5 inches in width, and they will be paired
with similar-sized CE3 generators from the same company.
"We've had problems from the first permit,"
said Dick Waterman, vice president of government affairs for Cox Communications of Orange
County. Waterman added that it was hard to quantify the length of the delay caused by
concerns over the power stations. Cox is cooperating with the cities to site the vaults.
Safety was never really an issue, he said, because the
power supplies are equipped with automatic-shutoff valves. Further, the smaller boxes have
a redundancy feature.
The operator believes noise is not a real issue, either.
The vaults are tested periodically between noon and 2 p.m. The noise of the old vaults
tested at 58.4 decibels at 15 feet. According to data the cable operator culled from an
airport home page on the Internet and presented to cities, the sound of a car engine at 50
feet away averages 70 dB. Ambient noise is 39 dB. The smaller generators now in use
register 54.5 dB at 15 feet.
The big issue really is aesthetics, Waterman said. The
cluster's entire service area is very upscale, and homeowners are sensitive about
their property values.
Although the law supports Cox's placement of its
hardware wherever it wants, the operator cooperates with each city on facilities mapping,
and it is trying to develop screen landscaping or other visual barriers.
Other Cox systems that are rolling out bundled service --
such as San Diego and Hampton Roads, Va. -- have received some complaints, too, but Orange
County is in the forefront because it is so far along in its deployment, Waterman said.
Also, the cluster has the most affluent average demographic.
This will be an issue with each operator that attempts to
launch telephony-type services over fiber optic cable plant. Unlike copper plant,
electricity can't be sent over fiber, so operators that wish to provide
emergency-resistant plant will have to install remote power supplies.
During Pacific Bell's short-lived foray into cable,
some residents in San Jose, Calif., complained bitterly about the power supplies for its
hybrid fiber-coaxial plant. One local described the vault as a Volkswagen sitting in the
yard, growling like a diesel.
This issue has not been applicable to Ameritech New Media
in the Midwest, though, because it uses separate telephone and video plant, along with
traditional backup power.
Waterman said Cox has been able to maintain a steady pace
of deployment, even though some nodes are only battery-powered until regulatory approval
comes through for the permanent backup supply.
But the next 12 months will be critical, he added. The
Orange County system has fully deployed digital video and cable modems, and telephony is
available to about one-half of the cluster.
Demand for bundled services is high, and the company has
just about reached the end of the area where it can utilize this jerry-rigged solution, he