Cable migration the hard way

While Rogers Cable‘s troubled transition from Excite@Home has garnered a great deal of media attention, Cogeco Cable has done it in relative anonymity.

And that’s a good thing.

Denis Bélanger, Cogeco vice-president engineering and development, says it finished migrating its 90,000 customers on Nov. 16. He credits his company’s success to reading the writing on the wall. Back in February 2000, he says, Excite@Home suffered a major system failure.

“Their DHCP servers went down and they could not bring them back up quick enough, and so we put in our own DHCP solution at that time,”Bélanger says. “We kind of repatriated control over the DHCP server, the addressing of the cable modems, back in early 2000.”

In August, Excite@Home hit another bump in the superhighway. Bélanger says auditors’ reports doubted the long-term viability of the company.

“At that time we thought it was prudent to order the equipment to support e-mail, news and caching. The plan was to convert over a six-month period,” he says.

The time frame, however, would be more like six weeks. After Exite@Home filed for bankruptcy in late September, Bélanger says he and other multiple system operators (MSOs) concluded they would probably have until November before service was cut off. So on Oct. 10 the Montreal-based company began moving users’ e-mail and personal Web content, put in place its own caching and news server complex and signed agreements with alternate Internet backbone providers.

Excite@Home pulled the plug on Nov. 19, three days after the migration was completed.

The transition wasn’t without its moments. Bélanger says it made one unpopular, but necessary, decision: Cogeco gave its users 72 hours to switch to the new platform. Chris Weisdorf, president and technical director of the Residential Broadband Users’ Association, says the demand irritated many customers.

Bélanger also credits Sigma Systems for its success. Jeffrey Bernard, vice-president global marketing for Toronto-based Sigma, says it provided service management and helped move some of the data. He says Cogeco’s forethought made the job easier, but described the migration as “a bit of white-knuckle flight all the way.”

Rogers Cable, meanwhile, continues its transition. It signed a (US)$15 million agreement with Excite Tuesday to provide service through February. The deal is subject to U.S. bankruptcy court approval.

Rogers spokesperson Taanta Gupta says 70 per cent of its 450,000 customer have successfully made the move, but users are still bombarding its call centre.

“They (the number of calls) are still fairly high, but they certainly have gone down form the end of November,” Gupta says. “This week they’re at levels where you wouldn’t get a fast busy signal any more.”

Gupta brushes off the suggestion that it is having a tougher time than other MSOs. “We tend to get more coverage and we are the largest cable company,” she says, and adds it too had planned to move to its own network regardless of Excite@Home’s situation.

“Our plan had been a longer-term plan. We began it last year and it was out intention at that time over a period of the remainder of the contract which went to 2003, we would in fact make this transition. When the Excite challenges became evident late spring, early summer, we accelerated that,” Gupta says.

“I will say that of all the cable companies we have been the most successful in transitioning in a very short period of time.”

The final nail in Excite’s coffin was hammered home Tuesday when AT&T withdrew its (US)$307 million bid for its assets. Excite announced it will shut down on Feb. 28, 2002.

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