Tales of Modem Exploration

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In a business as big as cable television, looking ahead to its 65th annual convention next year (the first time under the INTX label), milestones come along regularly.

A big one is coming up in early October: the 20th anniversary of deploying 50 modems to provide Internet service to Viacom Cable customers in Castro Valley, Calif.

It was one of several important trials that year that helped create the broadband industry that exists today, dominated in this country by cable TV providers.

Read on page 2 of this magazine how the current pending merger between the top two cable companies is viewed as affecting the future of the Internet. Read elsewhere, in our SCTE Cable-Tec Expo coverage, about the future of cablemodem service via the steady evolution that has led to DOCSIS 3.1.

Back in 1994, though, few people had heard of — much less seen — the World Wide Web, which is the consumerfriendly basis of the Internet we all know and love.

One person who had done both was Viacom Cable development executive Doug Semon. As recounted in Planet Broadband, a 2004 book by cable-modem inventor Rouzbeh Yassini with contributions from Leslie Ellis, Stewart Schley and Roger Brown, Semon told Viacom Cable president John Goddard about the Web. “With a consumer-friendly tool, now known as a Web browser, it had the makings of the missing ingredient in the quest for two-way cable architecture: consumer demand.”

That demand was evident at the outset. In Castro Valley, even just using word of mouth, the 50-home trial had a backlog of 200 or more volunteer homes, per Planet Broadband. Across the country, in Cambridge, Mass., Continental Cablevision was getting $100 per month from residences getting modem service.

And today, it’s hard to imagine life before that trial in a California community that is now a Comcast system.

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