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March 16, 1997

Cox readies super
fast Net service

By Timothy C. Barmann

It's finally coming.

Cox Communications, which now serves 90 percent of the state's cable subscribers, says it will bring high-speed Internet service to some of its customers beginning in the second half of this year.

Fasten your seat belts, because the service will be blazingly fast, Cox says. Typical download speeds will be between 1.5 million and 3 million bits-per-second, or about 45 to 90 times faster than a traditional modem.

All that speed translates into near instantaneous Web browsing, and will make many of the Net's resources more appealing. For example, a video clip that takes five minutes to download with a traditional modem, may take only about seven seconds to fetch with a cable modem.

Cox won't say exactly when the service will be here, or which communities will get it first.

However, Cox will only be able to offer it in areas where the cable company has upgraded its network to allow for two-way communication.

So far, the upgrade is complete in Providence, North Providence, Warwick, West Warwick, Cranston and East Greenwich.

What about areas not served by Cox, or cable systems in nearby Massachusetts? See related story.


The service will eventually be available in all 30 cities and towns that Cox serves, but the rollout will be gradual, over a period of two years, said Craig Watson, who heads Cox's Rhode Island cable system. It will take that long for Cox to rebuild the cable systems it acquired in December from TCI Cablevision and East Providence Cable TV.

First glimpse

What will it be like? A look at Cox's first Internet service may give a glimpse of what to expect. In December, the Atlanta-based company starting hooking up cable modems in Orange County, Calif., where the service is now available to 46,000 homes.

I posted a message in an Orange County discussion group to find out what people thought so far. Only a handful responded, which suggests that customers are just beginning to sign up.

"I am a customer and very happy," wrote Robert Dale Thomas, a programmer from Mission Viejo, Calif.

It costs about $45 a month for Cox cable television subscribers and $55 month for non-subscribers. You can stay online as long as you like.

Orange County customers pay an installation charge of $175 if Cox provides a network card that serves as the bridge between your computer and a cable modem Cox supplies as part of the monthly fee. Installation is $100 if you have your own network card. Cox supplies software for both Macintosh and Windows-based machines.

Ellen East, a spokeswoman for Cox in Atlanta, said pricing may be different in Rhode Island and in other Cox areas, depending on what the local markets dictate.

Very reliable

Internet traffic and cable television signals both can pass through the cable, meaning you can watch TV and use the Net at the same time. The service doesn't require the use of a telephone line.

Thomas, of Mission Viejo, said he's been using it at home for about six weeks, several hours a day.

The transmission speeds are fast, but varied. It often depends on how fast the connection is of the computer he is trying to tap into.

"So far, very reliable," he wrote. "Short outage, but was fixed in reasonable time. In fact more reliable than other services that I have used."

His only dislike, he said, was that he couldn't connect his own network of computers to the 'Net without some tinkering.

(Cox's East said that customers won't be allowed to connect their own Web servers to the service, but Cox will provide five megabytes of space for a home page.)

Cox has been talking about offering Internet access in Rhode Island for almost two years. Initially, Cox planned to work with a local Internet provider, InteleCom Data Systems of East Greenwich. The two have been supplying an Internet connection to a half-dozen locations as an experiment.

But last year, Cox became a partner, with two other cable firms, in a company called @Home, based in Mountain View, Calif. @Home will be the service Cox uses to deliver its Internet service. Watson said at this point, it's unclear what role IDS will play in its deployment of @Home.

Satisfied users

Cox says that so far, customers who are using the @Home service are happy. The company points to an independent survey of 30 cable Internet subscribers -- 10 from @Home, 10 from Time Warner's Road Runner service and 10 from Continental Cablevision's Highway1 service. It found that 25 of the 30 subscribers "expressed satisfaction, and most of them leaned toward exuberance."

"The responses by @Home and Highway1 users were overwhelmingly positive, while those of Road Runner were mixed," it said. The survey was taken by Deutsche Morgan Grenfell of New York, and was published in January.

Not everyone is touting cable Internet service.

"The likelihood of this technology succeeding is zilch," wrote John C. Dvorak, a columnist for PC Magazine, in the March 5 issue. Dvorak said it won't be nearly as fast as cable companies claim, that there are security flaws and that cable television operators are "dumb as fireplugs."

Besides the critics, there are some other serious competitors to Internet cable service. Don't count out the telephone companies, which are now testing a new technology called ADSL, which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. ADSL can turn your phone line into a high-speed data pipe, practically matching the incredible speed promised by cable. A future Cybertalk column will explore ADSL.

If Internet-by-cable arrives here at $45 a month, it won't put local Internet access providers out of business. They offer service, albeit at a fraction of the speed, for less than half that price. Look for these companies to come up with their own high-speed strategies as well.

Getting more information:

Computer calendar

March 18 -- Graphic artist and illustrator Roger Gustafson will demonstrate and discuss Macintosh software used for art, design and photography at The Rhode Island Apple Group (RIAG) meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the Gordon School Middle School. Cost is free. For more information, call Maggie Holmes at 433-3192 or by e-mail at Magholm@aol.com.

March 18 -- Representatives from local Internet access companies will answer questions about getting online at the PC Users Group meeting at 7 p.m. in the East Conference Room of the Community College of Rhode Island, Warwick campus. Cost is free. General question and answer session begins at 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Louis Stein at 739-2810, send e-mail to louisstein@aol.com or see the group's Web site at http://ids.net/~louissn/ribcs.html.

March 24 -- The Rhode Island Macintosh Group (RiMac) will discuss Open Doc and Cyber Dog software at 7 p.m. in the second-floor conference room of the CIT Building at Brown University, at the corner of Waterman and Brook Streets. For more information, see the group's Web site (http://www.rimac.org) or call Bob Hazard at 884-3050, or Gordon Lee at 943-8498.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.