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More MSOs widen the pipe

Wed, 10/01/2003 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Comcast Corp., Adelphia Communications and RCN Corp. have become the latest cable MSOs to fight recent DSL service price cuts by boosting their downstream speed caps.

If it's a race to 5 Mbps, consider RCN the winner. The overbuilder launched MegaModem Mach 5, a tier that will complement the company's flagship MegaModem Mach 3 service, which offers download speeds up to 3 Mbps. On Oct. 15, RCN will upgrade existing 1.5 Mbps cable modem subs to the 3 Mbps service. All of RCN's 3 Mbps customers will be upgraded to the 5 Mbps tier.

"While our competitors are focused on setting rate limits, we are focused on breaking speed records," said RCN CEO David McCourt, in a release.

Meanwhile, Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, said it will double downstream caps to 3 Mbps for no extra cost in 14 markets: Atlanta, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Dallas, Ga.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; Independence, Mo.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lake County, Fla.; Meridian, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Muncie, Ind.; Panama City, Fla.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Savannah, Ga.; and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Comcast, which has been conducting technical trials of a 3 Mbps service in Atlanta, Knoxville and Pittsburgh since late June, said it will eventually upgrade the downstream cap in all markets "based on technical readiness."

Comcast's commitment to 3 Mbps was expected. MSO President Stephen Burke told analysts in Boston last month that Comcast had plans to move to 3 Mbps across the board by year-end. In May, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts foreshadowed the pending decision in May when he the told show-goers at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tec Expo that cable "should not be satisfied with one-and-a-half Megabits of speed."

Comcast said its upstream cap will remain steadfast at 256 kbps. But that doesn't necessarily mean the company won't dilate in that direction eventually. A prime indication was Comcast's announcement Thursday that it would hasten the adoption of DOCSIS 2.0 technology via a headend platform development partnership with Terayon Communication Systems.

DOCSIS 2.0, a CableLabs specification, is designed to mitigate noise and boost cable upstream capacity by several fold.

Under the agreement, Comcast will leverage Terayon's DOCSIS 2.0-qualified cable modem termination system equipment and work with the vendor to test the operational readiness for DOCSIS 2.0 deployment.

Comcast did not disclose any specific equipment purchasing commitments to Terayon, other than noting plans to work with multiple CMTS vendors.

Adelphia Communications is in the process of standardizing its cable modem service at 3 Mbps down across the board, and lifting its upstream cap from 158 kbps to 256 kbps. The MSO made the upgrade available to its PowerLink service in Los Angeles on Oct. 1. Adelphia expects to rollout the 3 Mbps service to all systems by the end of November.

In concert, Adelphia also launched PowerLink Premier, offering speed caps of 4 Mbps down and 512 kbps upstream.

Adelphia, RCN and Comcast are just the most recent MSOs to recently standardize on higher caps. Among the recent moves:

Time Warner Cable, following tests conducted in August, increased download caps for its Road Runner service from 2 Mbps to 3 Mbps starting Oct. 1. The MSO is keeping its upstream capped at 384 kbps, but is testing a wider upstream in some undisclosed markets. Earlier this year, the MSO started trialing "Road Runner Xtreme," a tier that features a bandwidth consumption limit.

Charter Communications began testing a 2 Mbps service in "select" markets as of Sept. 22. Charter has not disclosed those markets, but customers who received the upgrade were notified by postal mail. Charter said it will conduct the trial through March 2001. At that point, the MSO said it will ask customers if they would like to keep their download capabilities capped at 2 Mbps, but did not say if it would charge more if customers opt to remain at the faster tier.

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