Copyright 2002 Warren Publishing, Inc.
When CableLabs unveiled Go2Broadband in June 2000, it was celebrated as new and important tool to spur widespread adoption of broadband by making it easier for consumers to determine whether required technology was available in their area. And, indeed, cable operators say it has helped them sign up new broadband customers.
But Go2Broadband will take those MSOs only so far, despite the fact that the program's capabilities could aid the cable industry in other ways.
That's because CableLabs is taking precautions to ensure there's no cooperation or collusion between MSOs on data gathered by the Go2Broadband project. CableLabs officials, already cautious because of fears their industry R&D consortium could be seen by government regulators as a kind of unholy alliance, is limiting how much data each MSO has access to, said CableLabs General Counsel Dorothy Raymond.
Consumers can find out quickly whether cable-based broadband has been deployed in their area and which cable company can provide service by punching in their addresses on Go2Broadband Web site or at an affiliate site, such as at retail outlet or retailer's Web site.
The project's zip code database immediately tells customers whether they can get service and how. Project assists affiliates in selling cable operators' high-speed data services and other offerings.
Go2Broadband's online service locator and clearinghouse also direct potential customers to MSOs' Web sites to sign up for service. MSOs participating are Adelphia, AT&T Broadband, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Insight and Time Warner Cable. Other affiliates include AOL and Best Buy, which offer Internet service and cable modems and other equipment, respectively.
CableLabs CTO David Reed said in recent media briefing near CableLabs headquarters near Boulder, Colo., that Go2Broadband in future could be useful to people moving from one area to another.
But he said engineers at CableLabs were holding back on potential capability that would allow MSOs to coordinate on customer data. For example, he said, an AT&T Broadband subscriber in Illinois could be moving to area of Georgia served by Cox. While Go2Broadband could help the customer hook up with Cox, it wouldn't pass on that user's information between AT&T and Cox or vice versa, officials said.
"Almost anything we do at CableLabs, obviously we have to be careful from an antitrust perspective," Reed said: "So we want to make sure that whatever we're doing passes that muster."
A CableLabs spokesman said there was "actually nothing going on right now with regard to moves of cable customers" but said potential existed down road if privacy and antitrust hurdles could be met.
Meantime, Raymond said she had advised CableLabs executives that, "We don't want to build in any dangerous capabilities," and that meant making sure that ambitious engineers didn't build in any extra features that would allow improper information exchange.
What's more, no MSO is allowed to do "data mining" with information gathered by Go2Broadband, even in aggregate, she said. Because of concerns about collusion and price-fixing, MSOs also aren't allowed to exchange pricing information, sales volume or other details, she said. In fact, MSO can access only queries sent to zip codes served by that particular MSO, Raymond said.
CableLabs has taken precautions to protect consumers' privacy, Raymond said. She said message fields in Go2Broadband allowed potential customers to opt out of having their personally identifiable information shared for other purposes.
"If the customer opts out, says, 'No, I don't want to get other information from my cable operator,' then our agreements with the cable operators prohibit our operators from using that information inappropriately," Raymond said. If a customer doesn't opt out, the user's address and other contact information would be passed on as sales lead to MSO.
CableLabs officials said Go2Broadband received 400,000 to 500,000 queries per month and expected to yield at least 5million to 6 million marketing leads for cable operators in 2002. They said they didn't have aggregated data analyzing a percentage of queries that resulted in service signups, but said affiliates were ecstatic over the site.
In fact, AT&T Broadband Senior VP of Advanced Broadband Services Susan Marshall said Go2Broadband and her company's site, which work in concert, received a 5 percent to 10 percent "close rate" on customers signing up unassisted. If a customer lives in area that cable doesn't reach, Go2Broadband will tell that user there's no MSO to be found there.