RCNs Pillsbury Bake-Off


There's going to be a Pillsbury bake-off of sorts Dec. 1 in
Waltham, Mass., where RCN, the phone company, is coming in and overbuilding MediaOne with
a vengeance.

RCN has targeted Waltham as a test market for its full
package of video, telephone and high-speed Internet-access services.

RCN picked a great test market. Waltham is situated along
"America's high-tech highway, Route 128," an area MediaOne first targeted for
cable modems several years ago.

It's also the home of our cousin, Cliff, who already has a
cable modem and cable service from MediaOne. Cliff -- who runs a high-tech business from
his home -- just signed up for RCN primarily due to the great deal on telephony and
because he wants to see which cable modem will run better.

"We shall evaluate the Internet services side-by-side
to see who wins the Net-access wars," Cliff -- an unabashed, self-proclaimed geek --
told us on a visit last weekend.

Not that Cliff is unhappy with his cable-modem service from
MediaOne: He likes the speed, but he says it gets bogged down at night and in the
evenings, when Internet usage is at its highest.

Cliff says the RCN representative told him this will not
happen with its service because it will only hook up 100 connections per node, insisting
that MediaOne hooks up 1,000 per node.

RCN, Cliff says, is taking Waltham by storm. "A guy
who said he was an ex-cable installer, now working for RCN, knocked on my door and signed
me up," said a very willing Cliff.

One of the biggest benefits for Cliff -- who is taking
RCN's "Resilink Platinum" package -- is that he will get two additional lines
for business. "We can make our outbound calls at a good long-distance phone rate,
while keeping our MediaOne phone lines for inbound fax and voice. Neither of the companies
will give us more than two lines," Cliff explained.

Here's what Cliff will be getting for his $139-per-month
RCN package: 150-channel digital service, complete with multiplexed-premium and
pay-per-view channels, 31 music channels and, most interesting, two digital set-top boxes
so he can run the 150-channel service from two separate TV sets.

On top of that, he gets two local phone lines with
unlimited local and regional calling throughout his state, cable-modem Internet service
with unlimited online time and the third month of it all free-of-charge, just for signing

That's a pretty compelling offering from an overbuilder
targeting a high-tech market. Cliff couldn't care less about the 150 channels of digital
programming, but he is truly wowed with the telephone and high-speed cable-modem aspects
of the RCN package.

So now, Cliff will keep the MediaOne modem service plugged
into his computer, while his wife, Cathy, test-drives the new RCN direct connect.

"Just a room apart, we shall see how the packets fly.
If MediaOne fails, I can pull the plug on them and save another $50 per month. And if RCN
fails in some area, I may have some discussion points to make a deal," he figures.

Judging from Cliff's firsthand account, competition to
cable is not just happening on the video side, from the likes of DirecTV and its
mega-offerings. Now it's coming on strong from the telephone companies, which can now
offer high-speed access to the Internet, telephony service and, yes, 150 channels of
digital video.

And as you can see from Cliff's tale, subscribers are
beginning to feel empowered now that they have choice.