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April 12, 1998

Cox wins kudos for
high-speed Internet service

By Timothy C. Barmann

Bruce Cushman was a little reluctant to say how much he likes Cox Communication's new Internet service that's being piped into his Warwick home through his cable television line.

He's worried that if too many people sign up for it, the Cox network that delivers Web pages almost as fast as you can blink will slow to a crawl.

"I'm very pleased with it," said the 61-year-old retired administrative assistant for the Rhode Island National Guard. "But maybe I shouldn't say it. You get too many people and you cut your own throat."

Cox@Home, as it's called, brings the World Wide Web into your home at speeds up to 100 times faster than a typical modem connection over a conventional telephone line, according to Cox.

Cushman's praise was echoed by a handful of some of the first users of the service, which became available in February in four Rhode Island communities: Warwick, West Warwick, East Greenwich, and eastern Coventry.

"It certainly has been a godsend in improving the speed and efficiency we need, so it has been a dramatic help to our business," said Tom Wharton, president of Lifefocus Inc., a Warwick job-placement service.

That extra speed comes at a price. The service costs $45 a month for unlimited usage for Cox residential customers who choose to rent the cable modem, plus another $175 for installation. Non-cable subscribers can also sign up for $55 a month. Business users of Cox@Home pay $69.95 a month.

(Cox will be launching a product just for businesses that will have extra features. Pricing and the start-up date have not yet be announced, the company said.)

The monthly charge is more than twice the going rate of about $20 a month for a standard modem connection through an Internet provider.

Cox says that the price is roughly comparable to the total cost of having a separate phone line for Internet use and an account with an Internet provider. With Cox@Home, you don't need to use a phone line, and you are connected anytime your computer is on.

Over the past two months, "several hundred" customers have signed up for the service in Rhode Island, according to John Wolfe, Cox's vice president of government and public affairs. Wolfe said the company won't say exactly how many customers it has because of competitive reasons. More have signed up than they had projected, he said.

Some of the early users say the speed of the service has opened up a whole new way of using the Internet.

Cushman, for example, says he now listens to music that is sent to his computer over his Internet connection while he uses his computer, thanks to a Web site called TheDJ.com.

While you can get audio clips with a regular modem connection, Cushman has found the sound and reliability are better with his high-speed connection.

He's also pleased that it takes only seconds to load Web pages that took several minutes to load before.

Another early user, Kim Glenn, said he uses the service for his work as a computer consultant. He spends a lot of time using the search engine sites for his work, and he's able to find what he's looking for in one-half to one-third of the time it had taken him before subscribing to the service.

Frank Meglio provides technical support for three radio stations: WHJJ, WHJY and WSNE. He's used the service to take an on-line seminar from Microsoft filled with electronic "slides" and audio. It would have been impractical to take such a course using a slow-going modem.

He also has taken advantage of the speed by downloading the test version of Windows 98 from Microsoft's site. It took only a few minutes, he said.

Meglio's home machine is now always connected to the Internet through Cox@Home, allowing him to access his files from any Internet-connected computer.

But there have been a few bumps for some of the early users. Wharton of Lifefocus said his service was down every day for the first 10 days.

Each day it was not working, he called Cox and the company sent a technician to try to fix the problem. After the fourth or fifth day, Wharton said he was reassured the problem was fixed, so he canceled his regular dial-up Internet account.

But the problem wasn't fixed and Wharton was left without any Internet access for several more days. Finally, Cox found the trouble with some wiring outside of his Post Road office.

Wharton was reluctant to talk about the initial trouble because he said he is pleased with how Cox responded to his calls for help.

"Now I have nothing but positive things to say about them," he said. Cushman said he was also pleased with how Cox responded when he called them to say the technician was 20 minutes late for his installation appointment. The company gave him the first month's service for free, he said.

This summer, Cox says that customers in northern Rhode Island will be able to sign up as well. Those communities include Pawtucket, Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Central Falls and East Providence, according to Scott Hightower, the product manager from Cox who is overseeing the Cox@Home rollout in Rhode Island.

Cushman has one piece of advice for those who sign up: make sure your computer is configured properly and has no hardware "conflicts." That means that you need to make sure that the devices you have in your computer, such as a sound card and a video card, are not competing for the same resources, such as memory or an "interrupt." This is primarily a problem found on computers running Microsoft Windows, as Macintosh users will happily point out. Cushman said Cox can't fix these problems for you and will not be able to complete the installation if you do have such conflicts.

(You can tell if you have any conflicts if you are using Windows 95 by right-clicking on My Computer, choose Properties, and click on the Device Manager tab. Conflicts are noted by small question marks or exclamation points next to the listing of your computer hardware. A call to your computer manufacturer may help you resolve these.)

Those who have cable-modem access say its hard to imagine going back to using an old-fashioned telephone modem.

"I know one thing," Cushman said. "If I was to leave here, I'd go to a place where there was a cable mode. You sure get spoiled."

"BILL'S PIE TOSS," the latest screen saver from Rhode Island Soft Systems, is perhaps the best effort yet by that wacky little Woonsocket company.

The company has found a niche in making parody screen savers for Microsoft Windows-based computers.

The inspiration for its products comes from current events. Holyear vs. Teethson was released after boxer Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear; Hey, Macaroni! was released as a spoof on the macarena dance craze; and Liverdance, which featured dancing Celtic livers was inspired by the popular Irish Riverdance performance.

The Gates screensaver is based on the real attack on Gates by a pie-wielding nut at a meeting the Microsoft chief executive attended in Belgium in February.

The screensaver shows Gates wearing a clown suit and a mocking smile, riding a small bicycle across the screen. Carnival music plays in the background. You can throw a pie at the richest man in the world by hitting the spacebar on your computer. A direct hit doesn't seem to bother Gates, who happily licks his face clean. He accomplishes that feat with an elongated tongue that any frog would be pleased to call its own.

It's irreverent and funny, and best of all, it's free. Soft Systems hopes it will entice people to buy a longer version the company sells for $9. Download it, and all the others mentioned here at http://www.risoftsystems.com/.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology 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.