Road Runner, MediaOne Tackle Merger Issues


While it will still take a month before Time Warner
Cable's Road Runner and MediaOne Express settle on a name and corporate location for
their merged entity, last week found executives at both companies tackling myriad other
integration issues.

Last month, the two high-speed-data providers announced
plans to merge, saying that MediaOne's backbone fit well with Road Runner's Time
Warner Inc. content to serve up a national brand that will actively pursue affiliation
agreements with other system operators.

Since then, David Fellows, formerly chief technology
officer for U S West Media Group (which will become MediaOne Group), decided to move over
to the high-speed-data entity as its senior vice president of Internet engineering and

In an interview last week, Fellows said issues that look
huge to the outside world -- such as the fact that MediaOne Express uses Netscape
Communications Corp.'s Navigator browser and Road Runner uses Microsoft Corp.'s
Internet Explorer -- are actually not that daunting.

'There's a lot to be done. None of it is
particularly controversial,' Fellows said. 'We'll work through the issues

Fellows called 'transition issues' the biggest
challenge -- especially integrating customer-service and network-operations-center

'If you're the poor NOC center or help desk
trying to solve a problem, you have to know a lot of different systems,' Fellows
said, explaining that the decentralized nature of both companies means that many different
types of modems, routers and servers are installed across the merged group's new
national footprint.

For example, he said, Road Runner uses three different
configurations, which vary by locale: Toshiba Corp., Digital Equipment Corp./Microsoft and
Motorola Inc. MediaOne is similarly diverse in its data implementations.

'If you go to launch something like IP [Internet
protocol] telephony, you can't hide these differences through APIs [application
program interfaces] or conversion layers,' he said.

Another prickly issue is the different ways that both
companies uses SNMP (simple network-management protocol) -- a language that helps NOC
employees to identify system problems and to manage the network from an end-to-end

Road Runner uses a Hewlett-Packard Co. program, OpenView,
and MediaOne Express uses Cabletron's Spectrum SNMP agent, 'and you can't
quite pull one tool out and throw another in,' Fellows said.

Still, he said, either tool can be made to work.

'I don't think that either one of us will fall on
our sword over that one,' he quipped.

The good news, he said, is that both MediaOne and Road
Runner faced many of the same problems over the past year, and the decentralized model of
both companies meant that independently, they both tackled problems in a similar way.

'Their experience and ours is very similar,' in
terms of dealing with hackers, handling trouble calls and proactive maintenance, Fellows

As for the location and new name, Sandy Colony, Road
Runner's spokeswoman, said three meetings on that subject are scheduled, spanning the
next six weeks.

'We've formed a transition group, with about 12
people, to decide who manages it, what it's called, where it's located and how
it's structured,' Colony said.

Both companies have said that control of the merged company
will be decided on a homes-passed basis.

The steering-group meetings conclude in late February.
'Our goal is to move quickly,' she said.

It is that speed to resolution that concerned some

'The merger is a great idea, but what a mess,'
said Emily Green, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Green said that because the competitive window between
broadband and telcos with xDSL (digital subscriber line) alternatives is not indefinitely
open, the merged Road Runner/MediaOne entity has to move quickly.

'What worries me is that organizationally, these guys
are a bunch of cowboys, and [they are] very decentralized. And to grow something fast, you
have to have a cookie-cutter,' she said. 'It has to be dead simple to scale it.
You have to say,'It looks like this, here's the box, this is the price, this is
the name.''

When combined, the service will be available to more than
3.6 million homes and, ultimately, to 27 million homes passed in the United States,
executives with both companies said. Currently, Road Runner and MediaOne Express provide
data services to about 45,000 customers.

The footprint of the merged venture covers 41 states
serving major markets like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Detroit and Tampa Bay
and Orlando, Fla., and minor markets like Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbus and Akron, Ohio;
Rochester, N.Y.; and Austin and El Paso, Texas.