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The Internet

A Step Closer (Or Not) To Cable ISP Diversity 104

Tom Veil writes: "Yahoo! posted a story saying that AT&T Broadband and Comcast have both made agreements to work with other ISPs in order to allow them to provide service through cable systems. The Earthlink/AT&T deal appears to be set at this point, but they haven't received FCC approval. Don't suppose this means we'll be seeing free NetZero cable, but hopefully competition will kick in and make things more affordable for cheapskates like me." Bear in mind that both companies provide cable Internet service and are seeking regulatory approval for a merger. They have good reason to sidestep suspicions that the result would be a strangling monopoly.
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A Step Closer (Or Not) To Cable ISP Diversity

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  • Competition (Score:3, Insightful)

    by friday2k ( 205692 ) on Saturday March 30, 2002 @03:18AM (#3252557)
    I remember the deregulation of the market in Germany when Deutsche Telekom had to open their phone and Internet services. Lots of competition popped up. INITIALLY. Many of them are gone by now, because they sold under their own cost (read: under the price that Telekom was charging them). That cannot be healthy over time (see .gone bubble). By now everybody is about the same, they all raised prices and there a happy few. Did it do much for the consumer? Not really as I recall (but I do not live there anylonger). The only differentiator (basically) is service now. So maybe it is a good thing ...
    • Service is definitely a good motivator. When you have a monopoly, they have the ability to give poor service and not care. If they seperated the cable network from the ISP like they have with DSL, you end up with more options. They have to be good providers because they know you can go somewhere else and take your money with you.

      This may not really show a large reduction in prices, but I'm all for competition.
    • Make no mistake, guy, you should read this [internet.com] article to enlighten your vision of how broadband is going in U.S. and how this thing is lame in Europe (though wireless and portable devices have a significant growth registered in Europe).

      Exists in U.S. an ideal dome for aggressive competition, actually communications' niche is tightly integrated with digital equipments' market, and U.S. already has dominance over the latter.

      Is a good move for U.S. to stimulate competition over communications, thus when arrives the time consumers of computers & related devices be buying new equipments (believe me, or do you think that a pc lasts during a people's live?), U.S. will be very strong in both communications and equipment ramifications of IT.

  • open cable systems are nice but what we really need are high power UBW satellite systems that have bandwidth equal to or greated than the measly things offered by cable and DSL systems. We have been stuck at (relatively)( low speeds for nearly ten years now.While i'm not a fan of big gov't, it would be nice if they came in and helped fund emerging network technologies.

    i guess there is probably too much of a national security risk in high speed wireless, right now though.
    • Satellites are expensive. Remember Iridium [iridium.com]? Don't be confused...that web link is for the new Iridium, which bought all of the old Iridium's assets after it launched a ton of satellites and went bankrupt. What's wrong with fibre optic landlines? And maybe a fibre optic line into your house one day?
  • but you'll have to forgive me for not believing it. On the one hand, open-minded businesses will act to create a marketplace for this type of service. However, the reality is that the expenditures necessary to maintain this kind of network will, in the long run, favour only the well-heeled. By definition, they will be few in number. Counted on one hand with a couple of fingers missing.

    I don't think the corporate partners mentioned will make it easy for a 'ecosystem' of different ISPs to arise.

  • As more competition arise, ISP will be forced to lower prices to stay competitive. SO who will get scrweed at the end? Technies like us, who knows that 300k/sec @ 40 bucks a pop is far better than 50k/sec at 30 bucks a pop.

    You know guys, more competition means crappier services for all of us.
    • I'd bitch like hell if I was only getting 300kilobytes per second.

      Fuck.

      200KiloBYTES per second is killing me as it is. :( I was spoiled by @Home (heh, uncapped downloads ruled. I once got 2.2MegaBytes per second down!) I want my uncapped line at $40 a month back. :(

      Though in all honesty, it is such that put @Home out of business in the first place. :) (well that and running that inane web portal of theirs, bleh!)
      • Bah. Meant I would bitch if I was getting 300kiloBITS and that 200kiloBYTES is still evil.

        Bleh bleh BLEH
      • by Anonymous Coward
        >> I'd bitch like hell if I was only getting 300kilobytes per second.

        I'd bitch like hell if my cable provider, who previously provided me with 300KB/s, decided to start providing 600KB/s at the same price to please the warez kiddies and one-handed surfers, and went out of business because of it.

        If you were in the broadband ISP business, you'd know they are already *severely* underpricing their bandwidth, compared to what they pay for it upstream. Gouging themselves even more for users who just want more freebies, would just be insanity on their part.

        • lol, right, troll. The cable companies are extending themselves to help us out. That sounds accurate. These companies are out there with one goal: to get as much money as possible, and in the process of doing so they will screw our services as much as possibly. They make plenty of money off of reselling their bandwidth, and if by "underpricing" you are trying to indicate approaching some sort of net loss, then pull your head out of your ass and take a breath of reality. The cable companies charge as much as possible without people yelling "ransom". They aren't "gouging" themselves at all, and are making quite a few pretty pennies in the process. Don't be so naive.
  • I think the cable broadband providors are doing this just as a dog-and-pony show so they don't get regulated or classified in a fashion where there will be real competition.

    I think what we'll see will be that it will always be less expensive to go with the larger carrier than with their 'allowed' competitors.
    • Check this out: Qwest [qwest.com].

      Their DSL service is pretty expensive, unless you want MSN. Of course, this is competition at work, right? They only carry two MSN packages, both slow, and both cheap. In fact, it's cheaper to get DSL *and* MSN then it is to get DSL by itself, without an ISP. I feel fucking robbed.
  • Time warner does too (Score:2, Informative)

    by bob1000 ( 174146 )
    I glanced at this [accesstimewarner.com] the other day and noticed they are allowing Earthlink and AOL in addition to their Road Runner. RR has been really good in this area but it might be interesting to test out earthlink because it is $4/mo cheaper. I just hope I don't get forced into AOL cable though..
  • Sorry, but network technology really isn't my strong point :P

    Is the system they're proposing something like the electricity selling programs that some states are doing now? I mean when you can choose among a variety of utility companies but all of the electricity comes over the same wires.
  • Rumors (Score:3, Interesting)

    by h4l0 ( 561266 ) on Saturday March 30, 2002 @04:01AM (#3252717) Homepage
    i work for one of the isp's thats going to get a shot at at&t's cable lines, and i have heard that we are going to be offering about 500k faster down, and 128k faster up than what at&t is currently offering, for a little bit less than what at&t is offering it. keep in mind, this is still in beta testing in a few places, and it might change between now and then. but from what i have heard it will be at least faster speeds for the same price as at&t is offering.
  • Broadband Choice (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    At&t has been saying they will open up their network for several years. The name of the project was "Broadband Choice"; and, in fact, I believe it has been tried in both Boulder, Colorado and Boston, MA (although the project name has changed).

    Part of the reason for the "strategy" was the Media One merger - and the regulators requesting that AT&T open up their network.

    Another reason is that AT&T wants to move away from supporting the end users on things such as email, news, etc. They'd rather concentrate on the network, and let someone else deal with DHCP servers, email servers, etc. (When they were @Home, AT&T was still the first 3 tiers of tech support, and it costs them a large amount of money) Because, let's face it - Many Users Are Dumb.

    @Home had an exclusive contract with all the cable providers for 5 years (although @Home went bankrupt a tad early - the contract didn't expire until June 2002). The cable providers had been wanting out of the contract for a while, either to do things on their own, or to open up their network to other ISPs. AT&T could escape the contract in some areas (Boulder and Boston) because the contract was for a certain footprint, and those areas were outside of the footprint.

    Incidently, the attbi network is largely WorldNet personnel behind the scenes when it comes to DHCP, email, news, etc. The network itself is run by AT&T Broadband personnel, but the servers and user administration was designed and run by a combination of WorldNet and AT&T Broadband personnel.
    • Because, let's face it - Many Users Are Dumb. to be quite honest i have not yet talked to 1 teir 1 tech at attbi that knew what an ip address was, let alone what to do when i wasnt getting one. when i get ahold of their tech support i just tell them that i was told to ask for a teir 2 agent when i get ahold of teir 1. these people are truly idiots, it will be nice to get some new tech support in there who actually knows what they are talking about. and keep in mind all this is coming from a teir 1 tech, so i am not judging them unfairly.
      • Just to relate my story...

        "Yes sir..? You say with tikkipdump [really tcpdump] under leeenyouks you were having a denial of service attack... can you explain that?........... ohhh a ping flood, well remove your router and uninstall linux and see if it goes away."

        Truly braindead, you couldn't make this stuff up.
  • Competition? HA! HA! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 30, 2002 @04:21AM (#3252777)
    I currently use Time Warner Road Runner after trying Earthlink's cable over Time Warner's line after being a Road Runner customer previously. "Competition" is about the worst word you could possibly come up with. Let me give some background.

    In early 2000 I signed up for Road Runner. I liked the product but not the service, Road Runner customer service was awful. Last year as part of the AOL Time Warner deal, AOLTW had to open their cable lines to other providers, and Earthlink was the one they chose to go with in my area. Since I'd had problems with Road Runner I decided to give the Earthlink over TW cable a shot. I called to make the arrangements.

    Signing up was easy enough. Within a week I had Road Runner taken off my cable bill and was going through Earthlink. At first the only difference was a new mailbox and new DNS servers. Then I started getting outages, downtime almost every week. Without failure I was getting days every week when there was simply no cable modem service. When I called up the Earthlink number they said they had no known problems and told me to call my cable company. So when I called Time Warner they didn't even want to talk to me since I wasn't really their customer.

    My experience was much worse with Earthlink than with Road Runner. In my opinion, Time Warner was doing something to interrupt the Earthlink service over their cable lines. Earthlink support people were very nice and sympathetic but they literally had no power to do anything about my problem. And Time Warner, well they could give a shit because I was paying Earthlink and not them. They didn't want to help me. While I can't prove it I am positive that it was intentional. Time Warner did something to make Earthlink over TW Cable FUBAR while Road Runner over TW Cable was running OK.

    The end result. My connection using Earthlink over TW cable lines was up and down, flaky at best. Outages lasting a day at a time, every week. Earthlink wanted to help but they couldn't, because it was a physical problem with the cable (supposedly) that they couldn't control. But Time Warner DIDN'T want to help because I was Earthlink's customer instead of Road Runner's. I wound up cancelling the Earthlink and going back to Road Runner after less than a month. And naturally I wound up losing money in the deal because I had to pay Earthlink for the full month that I didn't use, then I had to resubscribe for Road Runner.

    If you think using another provider over your cable company's cable is a good idea, think again. It's the same shit as DSL. Just like the phone companies make it about impossible to get DSL service from someone else, and just like the phone company and your third party DSL provider keep sending you back and forth when you have a tech problem.. the cable company will do the same thing if you try to get another provider over the cable lines.

    Don't bother. It's still a monopoly plain and simple. Offering "competition" is a bullshit guise, because it's still the local cable company's fiber, and if there are physical problems, the local cable co does NOT want to help you!!
    • I'm also a Time-Warner/Road-Runner customer. I was excited when Time-Warner sent me the inital propaganda telling me I was about to receive "choice". Then a few weeks later I got the oppotunity to have "choice" -- at $5 more per month than I was paying now. So instead of Time-Warner's "ISP" service for $45 / mo I could have Earthlink's "ISP" service for $50 / mo. Great choice! "We'll offer you choice, but you have to pay for it." What happened to choice driving prices DOWN!

      What I want is _JUST_ and IP and bandwidth. I use my own hosted e-mail server, my own hosted website and my own DNS from where I work (it's faster than TW's even though it's 12 hops away). I'd go w/ DSL, but that presents its own problems since my teleco is Ameritech and they have about as bad a reputation as anyone. Good luck AT&T and Comcast users! Let us know how much you have to pay for "choice".
    • Well, I think that if they really did this on purpose, EarthLink would have find out that Road Runner was trying to piss off their customers. I mean, if once a week, some people's connection seems to go dead, it's really obvious that someone, somewhere is tampering with it...It would be way too dangerous for Road Runner to try something like this.

      Most of the time, the simplest explanation is the best, so, maybe EarthLink just plainly sucks.
    • If it was a new service (adding secondary ISP to cablemodem infrastucture), isn't a more likely explanation that whatever technology was being used to siphon off Earthlink traffic wasn't working well yet?

      Isn't Cablemodem treated kind of like ethernet, at least at the neighborhood level? That'd mean some pretty heavy-duty trunking to segregate traffic at every neighborhood aggregation point. It seems more likely that they hadn't quite gotten it down and were probably tweaking the infrastructure as they went, or even totally re-engineering it (oops, that design won't work, we'll re-do it on the fly..). I'm not saying it doesn't equal sucky service -- it does -- but it's certainly not a conspiracy.

      If you think using another provider over your cable company's cable is a good idea, think again. It's the same shit as DSL. Just like the phone companies make it about impossible to get DSL service from someone else, and just like the phone company and your third party DSL provider keep sending you back and forth when you have a tech problem.. the cable company will do the same thing if you try to get another provider over the cable lines.

      I've had two flavors of DSL, CLEC carrier/indepedent ISP and ILEC carrier/indepdendant ISP. In neither case has the fact that I've had an ISP not associated with the DSL carrier been an issue. The CLEC carrier experience made for a really slow install, but once installed the service performed flawlessly other than a minor hiccup at the ISP (misconfigured duplex on switch port).

      My current indepdent ISP/ILEC carrier setup was so well integrated that I didn't even talk to the phone company -- I ordered everything from the ISP and its worked flawlessly since then.
    • Was your modem able to lock onto the downstream? If it wasn't this was a cable system problem affecting all providers.

      If it was, and you were, for example, being denied access based on your modem's MAC address via the TFTP config, then it would be intentional.

      Otherwise it's just a cable outage. We all have them -- in fact I have at least three of varying times every week.

      Without knowing exactly what happened as far as the technical characteristics of your service, we can't make any judegements as to what the problem was.

      As a DOCSIS tech, I might be able to help you -- especially with proving your cable provider is intentionally blocking your access via a 3rd provider. Quite easy to figure out, if you know the tricks...
  • by starphish ( 256015 ) on Saturday March 30, 2002 @05:08AM (#3252917) Homepage
    By purchasing a resale cable modem service you are setting yourself up for an enormous disappointment. There are many telco companies that re-sell Verizon service, on Verizon lines. If something goes wrong and you need a tech to come out, the company that takes your money can't touch your lines, they have to have Verizon come out and fix your problem, which will almost always take at least 2 weeks to fix. If AT&T sells cable modem and your service goes out, it will be weeks before you are back up. If you think the 3 day wait you get angry about now is bad, you will be in for a wake up call. Trust me on this one. It will make AT&T look like the good guys. They will be able to boast that "their" service is better, even though it is identical. Your tech support will not have access to the UBR's to check the power levels or see what your modem's IP is. They will not be able to clear the host on the UBR's if you want to switch computers, they will not be able to see you coming online. The will just have you power-cycle your modem, and if that doesn't work the only thing for them to do is to send an AT&T tech to your home 2 weeks later, and the problem might not even be with the service. It would be a nightmare choosing a service that uses AT&T's lines.
    • Most of what you described are DHCP related and I work for a Cable Provider and tools for checking things like that are already in place that let you view that type of info without direct access to the equipement. As for requireing AT&T Comcast Tech you are most likely right and I have no idea how bad schduling could be.
  • Competition (Score:2, Informative)

    While this may be a little off-topic, competition definitly could improve customer service. I'm getting at&t cable internet hooked up, and it's amazing the way at&t operates. Most of their web site doesn't even work correctly, and the tech support leaves much to be desired. One didn't know what NAT was, and if at&t considered it acceptable use. There's no mention of it on their web site. Not to mention the worst automated telephone menu system i've heard in a while. Hopefully the competition will bring prices down as well, as 50 bucks a month is a little steep. Unfortunatly there's not many other options. I suspect it will come down to the fees that other companys will have to pay to use the infrastructure. Otherwise it'll never be a fair competition.
  • We have three (or is it now two) cable providers in southern Ontario, each in their nice little zones. Where I am, there's Rogers Cable, with horrible cable internet access since before @Home died. Cogeco, out in the boonie areas (Niagra, Belleville, other places like those) provides access too, better from what I've heard, but then again, I'm not in a Cogeco zone. Shaw, the company that seems to have all but vanished, never provided cable internet access, at least not when they had control of the zone I live in.

    So my only alternative is to go with Bell/Sympatico for broadband access, or get a T1. Considering what either costs, compared to hellish cable or my so-so dialup, I'll stick to Primus, thanks very much.

    Let's see real cable competition in Ontario, followed by _working_ (as opposed to spotty) cable internet access.
    • Here is a rundown of what you have in the Toronto area that is semi-affordable

      Rogers HiSpeed - $40 /month
      - 1.5mbit / .45mbit - (they recently capped d/l)

      Rogers HiSpeed Lite - $25 / month
      - ISDN type speeds (128k)

      Bell HSE DSL - $40 /month
      - 1.5mbit / .15mbit

      DSL.ca - $40 / month
      - 1.2mbit / .35mbit - (monthly bandwidth restrictions)

      Telus Velocity DSL - $85 /month
      - 2.5mbit / .85mbit

      Rumour has it Sprint is going to be launching a similar high speed service.

      Rumour has it bell is going to be launching a faster service similar to the Telus Velocity.

      Rumour also has it that Rogers is going to be raising their prices for the $40/month plan (calling it Heavy User) and then adding another product in between the Lite service and the Heavy user.

      • The closest to what I have now is HiSpeed Lite. But, like all things Rogers, it's just as screwed up as the rest. Between their new paper collection, their ISP functions, and their cable rates, hell, even avian carrier would probably be better.

        And anything with any sort of b/w restriction is an abomination!

        Thanks, though, jest3r.
  • AOL/Time WArner was forced to open their cable systems in my area to other ISP's as part of their merger agreement. Now I have a choice between AOL, Roadrunner and Earthlink. Prices aren't any different. I know of one local ISP trying to get into the action, but I already know that they are going to have to charge more than the other three to do it. "Open" systems just mean that they will "open" them to select partners, keeping their monopoly through backroom deals. I can't even beleive that they consider AOL and Roadrunner different ISP's at this point.
  • Just look at the original press release announcing the merger [pressnews.net] When you see things like In conjunction with the transaction, Microsoft Corporation has agreed to convert the $5 billion of AT&T subsidiary trust convertible preferred securities into 115 million shares of AT&T Comcast Corporation. and ...AT&T's interests in cable television joint ventures and its 25.5 percent interest in Time Warner Entertainment you know MSN and AOL are going to be included somehow.

    As a Comcast customer, they're offering the bare minimum in value added (ISP) services - and and I don't think they have any interest in it. When MSN AOL and the Internet Scientology Provider come aboard, then Comcast can focus on what it believes to be it's strength - infrastructure.

  • I run an internet provider with dial, wired, and wireless access products. We charge $34.95 for a plain ol' dial account and I don't think its enough.

    Yes, you heard right, $34.95. Of course, we only aggregate customers 4:1 on the inbound T1 and the path to the net is set up to treat them very well. People who *need* dial up, I mean really need it for a VPN or Citrix session, don't mind $34.95 at all - they're thrilled to get something that works.

    When Cox opens their net to us we'll be pushing something like a $80/mo cable connection to our network for home users. It'll have a single static public IP, a /29 will be available for those that want to firewall without NAT, and we'll do proper DNS for them as well. We *will* cap their monthly throughput if it gets excessive - I'm not selling 1.2 mbit throughput for $80/mo - its meant to be used in a burstable fashion.

    The real big motivation in opening the network isn't competition in the realm of low prices - cable service is plenty cheap at $50 and I'd be happy if Cox unfornicated their peering/latency issues and charged 50% more. I'm excited about it because I can provide premium service on a layer 2 link that costs $30/mo and reaches places DSL and wireless will never go.

    • won't your $80/mo cable still be subject to the cox networks problems? i haven't used cox myself, but all cable services i have used, while fast, certainly have reliability issues... their outages are usually short in duration. But it does sound like you are trying to market to people with a need for reliability.

      so what kinda plans do you have to improve the uptime issue that is usually the biggest problem with cable...until a cable company can solve that one i just cant see it as a reliable small business solution... the static IP, NAT, and DNS is all a great step, but reliability is the main thing
  • Well, Comcast just sent me a notice stating as of May 1, they'll be charging me $10 US/month MORE (this is *after* they cut my bandwidth). Hopefully I'll actually get a choice of ISPs soon (would love to try out Earthlink, since they seem to offer better throughput rates).
  • According to the Louisville Courier-Journal [courier-journal.com]: A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has turned back [courier-journal.com] Insight Communications' effort to block the Louisville franchise given to a competing cable company, KnologyCQ, of West Point, Ga.

  • ...lobby your senators and representatives! If it's left up to the FCC, it's too late, because the FCC is not directly accountable to the public. The popular thing in Congress these days seems to be trying to lift the restrictions imposed by the 1996 Telecommunications Act and screw over the CLECs (including those providing DSL). The telcos justify this saying that they have to be able to compete with the cable companies.

    Well, why is it so hard to compete with the cable companies? Because the cable industry isn't being regulated as tightly as it should be! And as long as it isn't, the only competition you'll see in cable internet are the bones they're throwing to the FTC while they're trying to get approval for another megamerger.

  • Earthlink [yuck] already offers service over my Road Runner [not AT&T - TW].

    Of course one has to ask a few questions.

    I know where my mail and news servers are. If needed I could go and break into the office if I sent out an e-mail I didn't want to. The servers on the network [proxy, mail, news etc] are about 5 miles from my newer place and only a mile from my old place.

    Not only are they geographically closer but are about 5 hops away [remember the cable modem itself is a hop].

    Why the fuck would I switch to Earthlink which holds their servers in another state. I know closer isn't better - already some on our ISP have complained [uhhmm, whine'd] about the news servers and would like to use one in Kansas City [still a TW RR server].

    I don't see the problem but people are switching over.

    I see these deals as not monopolizing but doing what is required by law. Hopefully the cable comes in but there are many choices.

    Of course you can get AOL too....

    ...[actually that isn't all to bad considering its over cable none the less. New customers or current AOL customers would like that setup 10 times better.]
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Saturday March 30, 2002 @08:35PM (#3257394) Journal
    Cable modem service was *always* open - that was what really upset the other ISPs. Both the cable companies and the Enforced-Openness ISPs picked the wrong issues - the cable companies "won" by better political lobbying, and killed their industry in the process by causing several years of delay in the growth of their customer base while trying to pay off big debts and delaying their transformation into the new telephony industry. Here's what openness really did and didn't mean:
    • YES - Routes packets from the user to anybody on the internet. That was the real problem that upset the competing ISPs often objected to, because this is what makes their traditional model of dial-plus-mail-plus-web obsolete. The obvious implementation of cable modem service is to do routing from the head end on up, unlike DSL or dial services which fundamentally provide Physical Layer or Link Layer services between the end user and some service provider that builds IP connectivity on top of them. Some cable providers do obnoxious things like PPPoE or use 10.x addresses with NAT to give them more control over their users' access (e.g. make it easier to cut off people who don't pay their bills), but they're not necessary.
    • YES - Routes packets from the user to an email provider. Until the recent problems with spammers started some providers forcing Port 25 through their own relays, this was available, and they all will still allow you to fetch your email from your favorite POP/IMAP/Webmail provider. Some ISPs will only let you retrieve your email if you connect in through their dialups, but that's the ISP being closed, not the cablemodemco.
    • YES - Lets you retrieve your AOL mail. AOL was one of the big complainers about competition from the cablecos, but they have offered a $9.95 service for a long time that lets you use AOL services from your real ISP.
    • NO - Competing email service from the cable modem company. Sure, if you were an Excite@Home customer, your webmail account didn't have banner ads on the top the way the free webmail accounts did, but this isn't a real issue, and the Enforced-Openness ISPs shouldn't have tweaked on this one - there were lots of free webmail services competing with them, and providing POPmail and other good-quality email service was the way to compete.
    • YES - Provide big pipes to service providers that want better performance than they'd get on the open internet. I know that Excite@Home offered this, and I think some of the others did too. Most ISPs can get by with one connection into the cable network, in which case they don't need it, some need multiple connections, e.g. at the big regional peering points, and almost nobody had applications that needed to actually get down to the individual head end - the cable modem companies' regional concentration networks were adequate for that. I don't think the cable modem company lawyers who did the big Resist-Enforced-Openness-We-Paid-For-This-Network lobbying campaigns ever had a clue that they were talking out of both sides of their mouth by tweaking on this issue. Once you've got a routed network, you own the user's connection, and the rest is just implementation and pricing. They already *were* open, in the ways they were telling people it would be *way too expensive* to open up their networks, and they were too clueless to know it.
    • YES, THIS ONE WAS CLOSED - Decent billing systems that can handle wholesale ordering. This has two impacts - can the ISP market and sell the service to customers and get it provisioned without making the customer order it directly, and does the bill say "Your friendly neighborhood ISP" or does it say "Cable Modem Service From Your Cable TV Company"? A number of the Enforced-Openness ISPs ranted about this, but they failed to make it their major lobbying focus, even though it was the key issue and was the most fixable, and they let the Anti-Enforced-Openness cableco lobbyists lead them off into arguments about connections to the head end. This was one of the big failings of the cable modem companies - it's not strictly necessary for openness, but the big problems they had besides upgrading obsolete hardware were How To Get Customers To Buy Broadband, and wholesaling would have given them more options for finding the content and marketing plays that worked. As it was, the closest they really had to a wholesale marketing connection was Napster :-) Since it was free, they didn't care that they couldn't get the cableco to do billing, and it *was* one of the big reasons people bought broadband. This policy problem especially irked me, because AT&T Broadband's parent company AT&T *does* do wholesale billing for dial ISP services that want to do the same things with their modem service, but the billing systems for cable were totally different and the @Home marketing people were clueless.
    • NO - Lower prices for wholesale accounts. The Enforced-Openness ISPs did tweak on this one, and spent a lot of time whining about it instead of hitting the billing system openness issues. Yes, it's harder to compete by providing email service for more money than the free webmail at the cable co, but you can do it.
    • YES, THIS ONE WAS SEMI-CLOSED - Policies against users running servers or providing services on their home systems. (In an open environment, each ISP would probably be able to set separate policies about this, but that's not easy in a routed-from-the-head-end network.) This was another cluelessness on the part of the cable modem companies - they thought that by spending $6B for Excite, they could provide enough exciting content to get couch potatoes to buy their service, instead of realizing that they desperately needed compelling content and that Central Planning wasn't the way to make it appear. Sure, they had to deal with performance issues, and the no-servers policy was partly because the early cable modem systems didn't have mechanisms to limit users' upstream bandwidth, which was the technically constrained resource in the system, but in spite of all those Pac Bell DSL "NO Web Hogs" commercials, performance was never really a problem except in one of their initial test cities which turned out to have some bad hardware.
  • What about AOL Time Warner? Having AT&T diversifying like this is nice, but AOL is the largest provider (and also the only people I can get cable service from). I'd like to see some diversification from them to show that they aren't complete fuckoffs.
  • Things may now get better now that "portal" mania is over, and cable and phone companies realize that selling content is more trouble than it's worth. We may even be able to get things back to the way they should be - antitrust law should prohibit pipe owners from selling content.

    But then, there's AOL.

1.79 x 10^12 furlongs per fortnight -- it's not just a good idea, it's the law!

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