and the Cable Environment
By Norman J. Jacknis, Ph.D., WATPA Chair
This, our first newsletter, [Reprinted
from WATPA's hard copy edition.-Ed.] focuses on the cable industry. Our lead article
summarizes some interesting information about the efforts of other areas to deal with
cable franchises during changing times. It also discusses developments in the cable
industry. Please note that almost all of this information was gleaned from various sources
on the Internet.
The "State Of The Art" is best
summed up by Thomas C. Feige, president of Time Warner's Full Service Network operation in
Orlando. The project was launched this spring with two Time Warner employees. He states,
"It proves that the basic technology works when deployed in the field. For now at
least, it's the Fractional Service Network. Put another way, they've advertised a space
ship, but are only at Kitty Hawk."
Various communities around the country
have been inducing their cable operators to provide community networks, Internet
connections and other data services over the cable "wires." They are commonly
called I-Nets. Here is a sampling.
"We're just getting started on our
second renewal in five years. Data will probably be an issue. There has been a parallel
coax Institutional network since the system was built in 1980. It is underutilized. We
initially used it to transmit computerized circulation data back to a central computer
from our six libraries. However when we went to a new library system and jumped from 15 to
80 terminals, we were reluctant to depend on the RF modems and recurring problems with
them, so we went with dedicated lines from Bell. It costs us though, so I would like to
see the I-Net included in the recent fiber optic upgrade Comcast is doing. (Not required
under franchise; they're doing it on their own.) Comcast is also planning a market test of
data transmission to subscribers later this year."
Director of Libraries and Cable Television
Township of Lower Merion, PA.
"The City of Newton, Mass.,has had
an I-net from Continental Cable for over 10 years. We were slow to start making use of it
but are now getting to the point where we are concerned that we soon won't have enough
frequencies. We have drops in every school (21), library (5), and municipal building (16).
Originally intended to be for video only, it is now becoming a surrogate data network
until our six year goal of laying a 48 strand fiber backbone connecting to every building
is accomplished (we're in year one).
"Local access TV uses the I-net for
cablecasts from any location and regularly cablecasts the Board of Aldermen and School
Committee meetings. Recent live events have included: Mayoral debate from Main Library;
preliminary election results from City Hall; Scandinavian Festival from City Hall.
"School Department uses the I-net
for: Interactive Classrooms (primarily between the two high schools); Interactive
Teleconferences; Satellite Communications for Global Learning for language classes); and
viewing residential cable. They are also using it for a student information and
administrative data network.
"The Fire Department uses the I-net
for training using both video tapes and live lecture/classes to their six stations. The
Public Works Department has set up a WAN (Wide Area Network) to link its two yards with
City Hall. The purpose of the network is to support the Department's Facilities Management
System, its general communications needs and the City's Geographic Information System
(GIS). The last is an ARC/Info based system which resides on a Sun workstation at City
Hall. The School Dept. will soon be linked to the GIS. The I-net will soon be used to
connect other municipal satellite sites to the City Hall data network including the Health
Department and the Housing Rehabilitation Office."
Specific questions should be directed to:
Linda Walden, Cable Coordinator,
Newton Planning Department
(617) 552-7135 ext. 104.
Director of Community Development
City of Newton, Mass.
1000 Commonwealth Avenue
Newton, MA 02159-1417
"Bethel, Maine, is in the early
stages of data distribution on CATV resources using LANcity bridges (LANcity Corporation
(508)475-4050). Data transmission is purported to be at 10 megabits/second. After about
two weeks of operation, there's nothing to suggest that the system is other than
Harry H. Dresser, Jr., Ed.D.
Associate Headmaster, Gould Academy
Bethel, Maine 04217
"Cedar Falls [Iowa] Utilities is a
municipal electric, gas, water, and communications utility with roots over 100 years old.
However, the communications utility portion was started in October 1994 to build the
information infrastructure needed in our community. CedarNet, a community computing
network for a portion of Northeast Iowa [will] offer access to CedarNet over the new
hybrid fiber/coax network. This will be in addition to cable TV, possible telephone
services, and numerous other uses.
"CedarNet is on-line in demo mode
with dial-up access up to 28.8 kbaud. The broadband network will be built starting this
summer with completion scheduled for Aug 96. We expect access to CedarNEt and other users
to be 2mb/s. We anticipate a great future."
Curtis Johnson, P.E.
Cedar Falls Utilities
P.O. Box 769
Cedar Falls, IA
"We are negotiating a franchise
agreement with a fiber optic carrier for our community (Chicago Suburb of 46,000). The
company proposes to install a fiber optic network thru the community with a view toward
providing penetration in residential and business area in the long term. Illinois case law
presently restricts the collection of franchise fees. We have negotiated a favored nations
clause to receive franchise fees if the matter in the IL Supreme Court (AT&T vs
Arlington Heights)ends up in favor of municipalities. In an effort to maximize our
opportunities in the pending agreement, we have proposed a fiber optic backbone system to
eventually interconnect our public buildings (schools, library, Village, Park District,
Post Office, etc.) via this system. The company has proposed reserving two pair of fiber
optic lines in their cable for our exclusive use in any way we see fit. This is a loop to
interconnect up to 50 sites in the community. The deal is summarized as follows:
- Splice Point/Manhole -paid by company
- Line to building (aerial) -up to 75'by
company, balance by Village
- Line to building (underground)
- -materials by company install @$150/ft +/-
- Electronic interface- purchased/owned by
- Fee to use fiber line -none -- unlimited
use by govt units on system
Village of Downers Grove, Illinois
FAX (708) 719-4593
"In Santa Cruz, California, the
franchise renewal (1989, I think) required that channels dedicated for community uses must
be capable of carrying audio, video and data. The cable operator (TCI) subsequently
determined that establishing and maintaining 'clean' data transmission would require an
inordinate amount of expense, and offered instead to provide a separate dark fiber optic
network that connects key facilities of the city and county. The city and county accepted
this offer and now has that network, but, to my knowledge, has not yet activated it. So, I
agree that in this instance at least the design of the cable plant was inappropriate for
Tom Karwin, Coordinator of Educational Advancement
Division of Natural Sciences
University of California, Santa Cruz
"The Fitchburg, MA PEG channel goes
to every cable subscriber in the city. We have a subsplit system. All four reverse
channels and their associated upstream channels are under the control of the city. All
pole amplifiers are populated to drive signals in both directions.
T-7 maps to Channel 56 Public Education Television
T-8 maps to Channel 27 (a Zenith Communications Ethernet-like data channel pair)
T-9 maps to Channel 36 Public Access Television
T-10 maps to Channel 63 Government Television
"I know of no reason political or
otherwise why individual users ought not to be encouraged to use our T-8/Channel 27 for
Internet access. This would further enhance access to the schools by interested parents
since it assumes that the schools/city have set up the necessary Routers and servers to
support such a system.
"I recently had a personal demo of
access to WWW and AOL via the service that Comcast Cable will soon field test in the
Philadelphia area. They are using the cable modems developed by Intel. The price of the
box is expected to be in the price range of current 28.8 modems. [V.34 street prices
$200-$300 -Ed.] We did a side-by-side comparison with a 14.4 dial up. The results may make
much of the debate about viability of Web access via current phone modems moot.
"Comcast's architecture is different
from others. They have their own local servers with a large local database. But you can
also gateway to commercial services and the Internet. My rough calculation, based on
downloading some GIF files via AOL from the telephone and cable alternatives is that the
cable speed was about 5 to 1. Comcast says they will be expanding the service to about 300
homes soon. They haven't set pricing, but mumbled something about the cost of a second
residential phone line."
"In my own neighborhood of
Cambridge, Continental Cablevision spent last summer and fall laying upgraded cable to be
used for similar purposes."
Ben Compaine, Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunications
Center for Information Industry Research
"There is NO FCC requirement for PEG
access! The original FCC requirement for PEG in systems larger than 3500 subs (in a 1972
Rept & Order) was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Midwest Video II case (in
1976?). The Cable Act of 1984 (unamended in 1992) is permissive for local franchising
authorities to require PEG access (which can include I-Nets). It is totally a local
option, as is the configuration...a local govt can require EG, but not public access, or
I-Net, and Public Access only, etc."
Dr. Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications
University of Wisconsin-Madison
6l0 Langdon St.
Madison, WI 53703
Voice: 608 262 2394
Fax: 608 265 2329
"Despite the current brougha [sic]
over whether CATV can be used for telephone service (and vice versa), cable operators can
provide data networks to PEG entities and be totally within the law.
"There are some prominent I-Nets.
Glenview, IL comes to mind immediately. They even have their own (continued page
5)homepage on [the Internet/World Wide Web]
(http://www.ncook.k12.il.us/dist34_home_page.html) with complete details of how their
network came to be, and how it is used now. Or email John Mundt at email@example.com.
"There is a very large and prominent
I-Net in Oregon that was featured recently in America's Network magazine this [past]
summer. "The list of communities that are doing this is longer than can fit in this
message. But they have all found that yes, indeed - data networking over CATV does satisfy
PEG requirements... largely because the imposition of a PEGrequirement is left by the FCC
up to the local franchising authority.
Mark Wheeler - Advisory Systems Engineer
Apple Computer, Reston, VA
Note: The expert on cable modems at Zenith is James Treuhaft, at 708-391-8000.
Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Reed Hundt has proposed that
there would be an unregulated tier of cable programs -- a la carte packages -- similar to
Optimum TV offered by Cablevision Systems in Yonkers. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy
about this. Cablevision was sued by A&E Network when it offered that service
individually on request.
The item is from the best of sources,
John Higgins' (firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-887- 8390) Multichannel News.
(Subscription information: 800-247-8080, $78/year).
Class action suits over late fees are on
the rise nationwide and media attorneys are warning operators to review their late fee
provisions in order to avoid this latest wave of "cable bashing." Although many
industries have penalties for late payment of bills and those policies go unchallenged,
"if cable does it, it must be wrong," said one attorney. Consumers are
convincing attorneys to take up their causes on a contingency basis. Though plaintiffs
have had trouble certifying the class, once one succeeds, "You'll see a domino
effect. If one does well, even more will crop up," said Tod Dubow of Robins, Kaplan,
Miller & Ciresi. The suits to date have been filed in various states under different
statutes, including consumer protection and business and professions codes. But the
consumers' complaints are similar: The defendant cable system's late fee (often from $5 to
$15) is excessive and does not represent the business' actual administrative cost to
process the late payment. The suits also generally charge that the on-time payment window
is so short that a significant portion of the consumer base will be deemed late every
month. Plaintiffs in the suits have proved tenacious. The original plaintiff in a suit
filed against Cencom of Alabama in 1993 saw his complaint thrown out, but another
subscriber took up the mantle and is still slogging forward, trying to get a class
certified and draw other cable companies into the late fee challenge. Other suits are
pending against Sacramento (Calif.) Cablevision (Scripps Howard Cable Services), Viacom
Cable in San Francisco and District Cablevision Inc. of Washington D.C. In San Diego, the
city attorney challenged the late fee policies of Cox Cable Communications and Time Warner
Cable last year and both companies negotiated a financial settlement. Since the latter two
disputes were settled, they should not affect the outcome of lawsuits on the topic,
VIDEO ON DEMAND
There has been much discussion and
several demonstrations of digital media servers that allow subscribers to select movies
and other entertainment on demand. They could also participate in interactive advertising.
As a result of tests at the end of last year, two things were clear. First, the servers do
work and can provide service to at least a small number of people. Second, they won't be
cheap, with estimates of a minimal 100 title system costing a few million dollars.
However, Frontier Corp. (Rochester
Telephone Corp.) ended its video on demand test in Brighton, NY early. for lack of
economic viability. The company said that subscribers were not sufficiently interested in
Although not a trend, among the
established cable operators there has been a movement away from pay-per-view
entertainment. TCI has begun to use the channels for other purposes.
Five affluent suburbs of Detroit have
owned their own cable system. At the end of last year, they decided to sell the
16,000-subscriber system for $32 million to Comcast, which had managed it for them since
1988. The reason cited was the forthcoming competition in the cable industry.
Most municipally-owned systems have
beenestablished as public utilities and tend to charge less than profit making cable
operators. Some cities have also threatened to set up competitive systems to light a fire
under current franchise holders.
About the Author--
Norman J. Jacknis has been in computer technology for more than twenty years. His
functional specialties are interactive on-line computer-based information services, the
uses of computer technology in the public and non-profit sectors, operations, and software
development. Currently he is UNIX Products Director for Systems Strategies, Inc. Dr.
Jacknis received his Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. at Princeton University.