What Does Your Neighbor Know About Cable?


As a recent entrant to the cable industry, I have been
impressed with the creativity, talent and energy of the many people whom I have met.

This week, at the Atlantic Cable Show in Baltimore, there
will be an opportunity to meet again and reunite with these friends, to see the latest
that technology has to offer and to learn about where we've been and where we're going as
an industry.

This is good: We need opportunities such as those provided
by national and regional cable shows to share and learn from one another, and to take home
(back to work, really) the newest tools of the trade.

As we convene and congratulate ourselves for the many
successes of the distant and recent past, we should not lose sight of the people who hold
the key to all of our destinies: our customers.

As evidenced by the positive response to the industry's
"On-Time Guarantee" and the results of other surveys, it is clear that the cable
industry has done much in recent years to improve customer service, and that it will
continue to do so in the future.

Outstanding customer service has become the mantra and goal
of the cable industry. Increasingly, though, the challenge is becoming not just timely
installation, reductions in outages and short waiting times for inbound customer calls,
but also to know what our customers want and to deliver it with consistently high levels
of quality.

This has never been more true than now, as direct-broadcast
satellite and open-video-system service providers mount their competitive strategies. Even
in the face of this competition, the customer-service challenge continues to be well-met
on the video front, where the service that we provide is well-known.

But will this growing positive feedback from our
increasingly satisfied customers be lost as convergence takes hold? Will today's
video-only customers associate the quality service that they receive from their
cable-video provider with the likelihood of receiving equally high-quality service from
the same company when it offers high-speed Internet access and telephony?

The philosophy behind branding assumes that it will be so.
But how many of the brands that are known today will carry through to these new services,
or to the merged companies that will provide them? There may be more to branding the
myriad of services that cable can provide than what can be captured in a name.

It is the technological capabilities of the pipeline
through which the cable industry's services are offered that distinguish us, but not in
our customers' minds, because they don't know how we do what we do.

Research has proven that people watch television -- they
don't watch technology. Customers are reading about the new advancements that will come
into their home "someday."

Some may be apathetic, some may be fearful and some may be
optimistic. All will be affected by the changes propelling us into the future. We must
deal with these changes now and learn how to communicate them to our customer.

Bandwidth, multiplexing, speed, fiber optics, interactivity
-- all through one coaxial line -- these are the elements of the industry's technology
that can set us apart from the competition.

Cable insiders know of and are excited about these things.
But do any of your neighbors think of cable as high-tech? Do they know of the broad
spectrum of communications possibilities that cable can bring into their households and
businesses as a single-source provider?

Likely not, because too often, we are reticent about what
cable can do, since not everyone is doing everything yet. We fear building expectations
that we cannot meet as quickly as our customers might want. That is a legitimate concern.

My newness to the industry allows for a vantage point that
perhaps veterans can no longer have. I can still see with the eyes of a consumer. And the
more I learn about cable's technology and offerings, the more wowed I am.

I think that our customers would be, too, if they had
access to the information and if they understood how cable works -- not the nitty-gritty
technical details of a manual or a "Cable 101" course, but a tour of a headend
and customer-service center.

Cable is in America's living rooms, providing entertainment
and information, and in classrooms and communities doing good work. Perhaps the community
could benefit from seeing firsthand what we do and how we do it in the places where cable
services originate.

If existing and potential customers understood what cable
is, how it works and how it directly benefits the community, they will be as excited as we
are at the opportunities that are on the horizon.

Surely, the market can be conditioned, and surely, we don't
want to overpromise. We can gain the competitive edge if we're truly known as a part of
the technological revolution that will take people to places previously unimaginable in
the next millennium.

All who have ever seen the National Cable Television
Association's cable-modem demonstration have been awed. It is a truly wondrous experience
for anyone who has ever surfed the Internet using a copper-wire phone line.

Imagine the awe and excitement that could be inspired if
people knew that this same pipeline can deliver other valuable communications services, as

The cable industry can be the most desired and sought-after
single-source provider of communications tools that Americans use and love. But we have to
be known not only by what we do well today, but also as an industry with an extensive and
high-tech infrastructure that puts it ahead of the competition in terms of the quality and
variety of services that it can offer.

We will spend the next few days at the Atlantic Cable Show
looking at where we've been and where we're going. We'll hear from a panel of cable
pioneers who will not only tell of our past, but also foretell of our future. We'll hear
Jeff Marcus as he receives the "Bill Daniels Operator of the Year Award." We'll
be immersed in three days of technology, culminating with "Technology Day" Oct.

We've invited teachers to come for "Educator Day"
to participate with Cable in the Classroom (CIC). We've partnered with the Cabletelevision
Advertising Bureau, CTAM, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers and CIC,
giving this conference a depth of program content and experiences to enrich our attendees'
learning experiences.

It's important for us to remember that the customer does
have options. We must do everything that we can to make sure that the customer has good
feelings about our business.

Hopefully, when we go back to our communities, we will
remember to take a piece of East Coast Cable '98 home to share with our neighbor, who just
might share the good news with his neighbor. And the good news is that cable is exploding
with technology, ideas and great programs, both nationally and locally.

Karen D. Alexander is president of the New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association.