Through The Wire: Itll Be a Cold Day in Dallas


Let's hope Paul Allen likes Tex-Mex food,
because officials in Fort Worth, Texas, want the multimedia mogul to personally explain
why Charter Communications Inc. is trading its local system to AT&T Broadband &
Internet Services.

Their noses slightly out of joint after learning about the
swap at the last minute, the city invoked a clause in its franchise in which Allen
personally agreed to appear before the City Council and explain any transfer requests.
"And I'm going to hold their feet to the fire on that one," Fort Worth assistant
city manager Pat Svacina said. Don't hold your breath, Pat.

Charter officials diplomatically pointed out that the
clause in the franchise does include Allen's name, but it gives the company the option of
substituting a member of senior management. "We think [Charter president] Jerry Kent,
or myself, could explain things," VP Dave Barford said.

When your business plan calls for changing the world, it
helps if the folks in your own backyard know who you are.

It's even more important if you're counting on their desire
for a wired world to influence elected officials when it comes time to make decisions that
can make or break that plan. When St. Louis-based Charter began
preparations to acquire AT&T's customers in St. Louis and to use the market as a
technological incubator, executives realized that Charter's local profile was too low,
especially with a fierce lobbying competitor like Southwestern Bell around.

So St. Louisans are being bombarded with TV and radio spots
about a wired utopia that can only become reality if Charter and its innovative leader,
Paul Allen, are allowed to move ahead without interference from local officials.

Listeners are urged to call a toll-free number to learn
more about the status of regulations that could hamper Charter's push and, not
incidentally, contact information for those local officials.

EchoStar Communications Corp. spokesman
Marc Lumpkin was getting a little punchy last week after taking several calls from
reporters doing last-minute research for Y2K-disaster stories.

When asked whether the company was expecting any of its
direct-broadcast satellites to explode at the turn of the millenium, Lumpkin replied,
"More likely, the earth will explode, and our satellite will have to find a new
planet to orbit around."

Who says you need 100 pounds of rice, canned water and a
noisy, gas-powered generator to survive those powerless, microwaveless, Nintendoless days
of chaos that some feared might follow Y2K?

The good people at High Speed Access Corp.
-- their own cable-modem systems already checked for Y2K compliance -- sent members of the
news media leathernecklike "Y2K Survival Tools" with instructions about how the
devices could be lifesavers if the power grid went south after the epic date change. The
tool's ruler could be used for measuring ceiling tiles when one tired of counting them.

The can and bottle openers could provide access to survival
rations ranging from Spam to Royal Family of Norway sardines. The knife blades and awls
could be used to cut up clothing for costumes so one could stage an original neighborhood
production as "entertainment after all the batteries in your Watchman have

Throw in a Popeil Pocket Fisherman and a fella could have a
heck of a weekend in Vegas!

The Wire is still not sure people have a firm grip on what
"broadband" means, other than "cool stuff guys like Paul Allen are willing
to throw billions at."

But if press releases are any guide, the term is catching
on, probably because it means "cool stuff guys like Paul Allen, etc."

December saw one company, Multichannel
Communications Sciences Inc. (a name The Wire kind of liked), rebrand itself
Broadband Innovations (OK, that's a better name).

Another company, CrossKeys Systems Corp., decided
to buy a company called Dynamic Broadband Networks that no doubt used to be called
something else. Core Networks announced something about its "CoreOS"
broadband-provisioning and management system.

STM Wireless Inc. announced a
broadband-network-equipment sale (which would contribute to bridging the digital divide!).

And 2Wire Inc. said it planned to unlock
the potential of consumer broadband in a really cool way. These are only the ones we

By Kent Gibbons, from bureau reports.