News summary for 9/11/07

Tue, 09/11/2007 - 10:04am
CED staff

FCC to consider barring channel packaging 
By Brian Santo

At the Federal Communications Commission’s open meeting today, the Commission is scheduled to examine programming tying arrangements. The Commission is reportedly entertaining the possibility of forbidding such arrangements.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has relentlessly castigated the cable industry for rising costs, and has steadfastly advocated moving to an a la carte approach to selling channels as a means of controlling costs.

All the while, the cable industry has argued that a major contributor to rising costs is a particular practice of programmers. Large programmers force cable system operators to a) pay more and more for popular channels and b) force operators to take additional channels in a package with the popular channels.

The approach – tying – eats up bandwidth (denying space for other networks) and drives up costs. Disney, owner of ESPN, is notorious for the practice, but is hardly the only company that engages in it.

In an apparent capitulation to the cable industry, the FCC will examine b) – the issue of tying arrangements. Item a) is apparently outside the Commission’s scope of influence.

Though discussing the issue suggests the Commission gives credence to cable operators’ complaints, it may be Martin’s way of giving up something in order to get what he wants – a la carte programming. The cable industry’s argument is that a la carte will radically change the pay TV model, and not for the better.

Carlyle Group puts Insight sale on hold
By Traci Patterson

The Carlyle Group has put its sale of Insight Communications on hold due to volatility in the credit markets, reports The Wall Street Journal. 

High borrowing costs have affected what bidders are willing to offer for Insight. One banker involved in the deal said bids, in the "less than $3 billion" range, probably fell short of the company's asking price by $200 million or so, the Journal reports.

Many in-process auctions have been delayed or canceled since credit investors rebelled against easy terms for borrowers this summer, the Journal says.

In August, The Courier-Journal reported that Time Warner Cable’s CFO, John Martin, had said the MSO was considering an investment in Insight. According to The Wall Street Journal, TWC did put in a bid for Insight last month, but recent head winds in the cable industry apparently kept that offer from succeeding.

In April, Insight and Comcast Corp. reached an agreement on their JV. Insight retained systems in southern Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, while Comcast took over systems in Illinois and central Indiana.

Insight serves nearly 1.4 million subscribers in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, making the MSO the ninth-largest cable operator in the U.S.

SeaChange releases IPTV solution, names partners
By Traci Patterson

SeaChange International unveiled its TV Platform Developer Program at IBC 2007 and named five of the program’s partners: FreethinkingIntegra5Snap TVTwoWay TV and Verimatrix

The IPTV solution is designed to deliver value-added applications with SeaChange’s open, standards-based TV Navigator client middleware - designed for telco, satellite, cable, terrestrial and hybrid networks - that allows operators to assemble on-demand, convergence and next-gen subscriber services in advanced STB environments.

"TV Platform was created to ensure robust and highly competitive IPTV services, making the most of operators' networks and complementing other quad-play services," said Venkat Krishnan, director of IPTV solutions for SeaChange.

The solution also includes network and back office software that allows operators to brand, launch and bill video content and services from SeaChange and third-party developers. Program partners receive access to product support, resources and tools to assist them with porting and developing products and services for TV Platform.

SaskTel deploys Tek’s network assurance solution
By Mike Robuck

Saskatchewan, Canada-based SaskTel has rolled out a network service assurance solution from Tektronix to monitor its TDM, VoIP and mobile voice and messaging applications across its network. Tektronix’s GeoProbe Network Assurance suite of applications gives SaskTel visibility into every call, which enables quick troubleshooting across SaskTel’s various service offerings. Textronix’s monitoring solution also provides a call trace capability for local and federal law enforcement requests.

“After a successful trial program, Tektronix's GeoProbe solution was the clear choice because it allowed us to enhance the level of service our customers have come to expect,” said SaskTel CTO Kym Wittal, in a statement. “With GeoProbe, we can now identify and respond to customer issues much faster than before. In addition, we are now in a better position to be compliant with future law enforcement requirements for providing surveillance and call trace capabilities over IP-based networks.”

NextPhase Wireless to offer 1 Gbps speeds in L.A.
By Mike Robuck

NextPhase Wireless said today that it will start offering a specialized wireless service plan that features broadband speeds up to 1 Gbps to some of its Los Angeles-based enterprise customers.

“Following our planned deployment of advanced wireless fiber technology throughout the greater Los Angeles area, we expect to begin offering both existing and potential enterprise customers within the L.A. market specialized wireless service plans capable of supporting their unique high-capacity broadband needs at pricing that will be significantly lower than competitive offerings. We will then replicate this in our other key service regions, with initial focus in California, Georgia, Florida, Nevada and New Jersey," said Tom Hemingway, chairman and COO of NextPhase Wireless, in a prepared statement.

Barring any unforeseen delays, NextPhase expects the initial wireless fiber deployment to be completed within 90 to 120 days.

NextPhase is a triple play provider that currently has 10,000 wireless customers including businesses and municipalities, on its WiMAX networks.

Occam helps phone cooperative serve up triple play
By Mike Robuck

Occam Networks was brought on board to help the North Central Telephone Cooperative deliver advanced services to its customers.

The Macon County, Tenn.-based phone cooperative is using components of Occam’s Broadband Loop Carrier System for its triple play and IP video services.

"To meet our customers' growing need for advanced broadband services, we are implementing a significant upgrade to our network," said Ronnie Wilburn, vice president of operations of NCTC, in a statement. "In addition to ease of deployment and turn up, scalability and reliability, we researched solutions that would provide the best long term operating and cost-effectiveness.

Occam's solution fit into our network seamlessly."

NCTC is using Occam's BLC 6252-02 ADSL2Plus blade. When the upgrade is completed, the telco will manage a hybrid network with video over copper lines out to 5,000 feet and active FTTH to subscriber areas beyond that. The upgrade is configured for multiple streams of HD video as well as significant amounts of data bandwidth for subscribers.

NCTC was formed in 1951 and initially received loans from the Rural Electrification Agency, which is now known as the Rural Utilities Service, to provide service. The company was formed to deliver telecommunications services to rural areas in Tennessee and Kentucky that had been bypassed by larger, for profit service providers. Today, NCTC offers a wide range of services to residents and businesses in north central Tennessee and south central Kentucky.

Two optical net startups rake in funding
By Brian Santo

Two optical networking startups have attracted a total of $57 million in financing. Matisse Networks, which specializes in optical burst switching, nailed down $45 million in its series C round, while BroadLight, a supplier of semiconductors and software for GPON networks, pulled in $12 million in its Series E funding.

Matisse Networks plans to use the money it collected to expand the sales, marketing and development of its EtherBurst optical switch. 

The lead in the round was Merrill Lynch PCG, which invested $35M. Merrill Lynch was joined by all previous investors in Matisse: Menlo Ventures, Monitor Ventures, Walden International and Woodside Fund. To date, Matisse said it has raised a total of $80 million.

Matisse is developing its switch in anticipation of rising bandwidth demands from IPTV and increasing demand for Ethernet data services, which Matisse said are likely to overwhelm the worldwide installed base of over 400,000 synchronous optical network and synchronous digital hierarchy (SONET/SDH) optical rings.

For IP and Ethernet transport, SONET/SDH costs far more to deploy and maintain than newer Ethernet over wave division multiplexing (WDM) solutions like Matisse Networks’ EtherBurst optical switch, the company said.

Matisse Networks also announced having hired several executives: Doug Stewart, vice president of sales for North America Europe, Middle East; Shigeru Ota, vice president sales for Asia Pacific; and Gouri Shankar, head of the Matisse Networks design center in Hyderabad, India.

BroadLight, meanwhile, closed a $12 million series E financing round led by Benchmark Capital. Other investors include Azure Capital Partners, Broadcom, Cipio Partners, Delta Ventures, Israel Seed Partners, Motorola Ventures, Star Ventures and Tellabs.

“We believe BroadLight has enormous opportunity in the growing GPON fiber market,” said Arad Naveh, general partner at Benchmark Capital Israel. “The company has clearly demonstrated its ability to execute with the development of the widely accepted first-generation GPON ONT SoC and 4-port OLT ASIC product lines. We anticipate the same time-to-market delivery and world-class silicon integration with its upcoming Residential Gateway product line.”

AT&T shifts focus to wireless with new ads and color (orange)
Copyright 2007 Gannett Company, Inc.
By Leslie Cauley, USA Today

To those who think the Apple iPhone is just a clever way for AT&T to grab wireless market share - think again.

AT&T's new chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson, says the iPhone is just one part of a multipronged global strategy to turn AT&T into a "mobility" play. That's Stephenson-speak for any type communication anywhere, anytime.

"Wireless is the core of the business now," Stephenson says. "It's the core of how we grow the business going forward."

To help drive that message home, AT&T today kicks off an advertising campaign that will underscore the company's new, mobility-centric view of life. The tagline: Your Seamless World.

AT&T is also introducing a new company color for its mobility services: orange.
The choice is a respectful nod to Cingular, whose corporate color was orange. That brand was retired after AT&T bought its Cingular partner, BellSouth. The combined wireless operation now goes by one name: AT&T.

The blue-and-white sphere -- AT&T's corporate logo -- will not change.

Like his predecessor, Edward Whitacre Jr., who oversaw the transformation of AT&T into a wireless power, Stephenson says he won't be shy about shaking up the status quo. For years, he notes, big carriers have forced U.S. consumers to buy traditional phone service if they wanted the best deal on broadband and wireless services.

Those days are over, he says.

"We're freeing our broadband customers from having to buy an access line (regular phone service)," he says. Such an approach "is an old mind-set. We need to get over it."

He says a handful of AT&T wireless stores recently began test-marketing a bundle of just wireless and home broadband services.

The $60-a-month package offers customers a 1.5-megabit home DSL connection, 450 anytime wireless minutes, plus 5,000 night and weekend minutes, unlimited calls to AT&T customers and rollover of unused minutes to the next month. Five bucks more gets 200 text messages.

In a first for AT&T, however, customers do not have to buy regular phone service to get the package price.

Stephenson says the response from consumers has been overwhelming. Sales "have jumped."

As a result, Stephenson says, AT&T plans to start selling the package nationally. "We'll blow this out over our entire footprint."

Inherent in the offering, he says, is a message for consumers - and a message for AT&T's workforce. "We're not going to force customers into (a service) they don't want to use."

Stephenson says the iPhone, distributed exclusively by AT&T, has met the company's expectations. The only surprise, he says, is the impact on data usage by iPhone owners. It's double what AT&T had expected, and more than half of that usage is taking place at Wi-Fi hotspots, he says.

Stephenson says he supports Apple's decision to cut the iPhone's price by $200, noting that it should boost sales during the upcoming holiday season. He also thinks the $100 credit offered by Apple to those who paid the original retail price of $599 was "respectful of customers."

The impact of the device on AT&T is undeniable, he says. In India recently to talk with large-business customers about AT&T's product offerings, Stephenson says the first question was one that is becoming increasingly familiar to him: "Do you have an iPhone?" (He does.)

AT&T is beefing up its global profile and trying to cut better "roaming" deals with international wireless carriers to carry calls from iPhones and its other devices.
"We pretty much cover the globe now," Stephenson says. "We just want to cover it cheaper."

Broadcasters oppose use of vacant channels for Internet 
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times

Washington -- What's more important: broadcast TV or high-speed Internet access?
Not surprisingly, broadcasters choose TV. And they launched a lobbying blitz Monday to prevent technology companies from potentially causing interference on over-the-air television signals in a quest to hook up more people to the Internet.

"Only in Washington would we have to make the case for interference-free TV," said David K. Rehr, president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Intel Corp. and other technology companies want the Federal Communications Commission to let them use vacant TV channels, known as "white spaces," for a new generation of wireless, Web-surfing devices. FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin and many lawmakers see those channels - ranging from about a third of the TV airwaves in Los Angeles and other major cities to three-fourths in rural areas - as an untapped resource that could boost the country's poor international ranking for accessibility of broadband Internet service.

"The promise that this spectrum holds for bringing broadband to more Americans is too great to ignore," said Scott Blake Harris, counsel to the White Spaces Coalition, a group formed by the technology companies to press the issue. Use of the airwaves would be free, similar to Wi-Fi, and the group said devices could share the airwaves with TV stations without interference.

The proposal, which the FCC is scheduled to consider next month, has sparked a major battle between the two industries.

Broadcasters zealously guard access to the airwaves set aside decades ago for television. They started airing TV ads in Washington against the proposal Monday and brought in industry executives to lobby the FCC and Congress. With a federal mandate that stations air only digital signals starting in early 2009, broadcasters said this was no time for risky experiments. About 20% of households receive only over-the-air television.

Though interference causes static or ghostly images on traditional analog TV, the effect on digital signals is worse -- the picture breaks up or freezes.

"Your neighbors will be causing interference to your set. You will have no idea where it's coming from," said David Donovan, president of the Assn. for Maximum Service Television, the engineering trade group of TV broadcasters. The broadcasters are joined in their effort by the major sports leagues and ESPN, which said the devices also threatened to interfere with wireless microphones used by coaches, officials and announcers during games.

Broadcasters said it was too difficult for small gadgets to detect TV signals as well as large TV sets, and they point to results released over the summer in FCC tests of prototype devices submitted by Microsoft and Philips Electronics North America Corp.

Microsoft's device was unable to detect TV signals in field testing, the key to avoiding interference. But Microsoft said afterward that the device was broken. The Philips prototype detected TV signals in a laboratory setting but was not designed for field testing. It had mixed results in detecting wireless microphones, according to the FCC.

Martin told a House subcommittee in the spring that he supported the use of portable devices as long as they did not interfere with TV signals. FCC officials declined to say whether they would require more tests before making a decision. The technology companies plan to submit their own test results that show the prototypes can avoid TV stations, said Edmond J. Thomas, senior technology policy advisor to the White Spaces Coalition.

Broadcasters support the FCC's decision last fall to allow use of the vacant channels by fixed wireless devices, such as high-speed Internet receivers in homes. Those devices could be programmed to avoid the TV channels in the area. But mobile devices would have to search for TV stations to avoid as they are moved from place to place, and the FCC took a slower approach to approving their use.

Digisoft, ATCi pair on IPTV solution
By Traci Patterson

Digisoft and Antenna Technology Communications Inc. (ATCi) are teaming up for a scalable, end-to-end IPTV solution targeted at Tier 2 and Tier 3 telcos.

The solution includes the Simulsat receive multibeam antenna, a satellite subsystem and MPEG-4 compression. Digisoft will provide DigiHost - the company’s headend service delivery platform - an application management server and a dynamic program guide on a Java STB.

The Java STB runs an interactive program guide (IPG), VOD interface, network personal video recorder (nPVR) interface and an application launcher with interactive applications.



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