Affiliates face @Home aftermath

After Excite@Home met its demise last year, several broadband cable operators were awakened to the joys of self-reliance. But self-reliance doesn’t come without tools, and there’s been no shortage of companies ready to step up and

provide the products needed to speed ISPs on their road to independence.

Halifax-based Core Networks Inc. is one of the vendors that has seen business boom. Established in 1998, the company sells the activation and management software needed to manage broadband Internet service in-house. According to Core Networks CEO Jeffrey Campbell, many cable companies turned to outsourcing their Internet services as a way of testing the waters and reducing their up-front investment. But as the popularity of Internet over cable has increased, many providers reconsidered their decision.

“The product (cable broadband service), around the world, has taken off like a shot,” Campbell says. “But you can very quickly run into problems when you have it all outsourced and you need to get control over it to get the quality where you want it to be.”

Worst off were companies that ended up becoming Core Networks companies, like Advanced Cable Communications, that had subcontracted their broadband services to Excite@Home directly. Serving more than 80,000 homes in the south Florida communities of Weston and Coral Springs, Advanced Cable found itself high and dry last year when Excite@Home announced to its affiliates that it would no longer activate new subscribers.

Antietam Cable Television Inc. of Hagerstown, MD, serves more than 42,000 subscribers in the Washington County region of Maryland. Gene Hager, president of Antietam, says that following Excite@Home Solutions’ withdrawal of activation services, the company needed to find a way to continue to increase its subscriber base, as well as continue to optimally service its current slate of subscribers.

Both Advanced and Antietam Cable employed Core Networks’ CoreOS Broadband Provisioning and Management System to create an infrastructure for subscriber activation and monitoring of the network. “They were paying a significant fee every month to @Home,” Campbell says. This (CoreOS) allows them to save money, increase their service, and have better control over the offering.”

Despite the troubles with Excite@Home, subscriber growth is strong amongst cable providers, according to Mark Quigley, research analyst at Yankee Group Canada. “The surprising thing is, if you take a look at Rogers, Shaw and Cogeco, in terms of subscriber growth, there doesn’t appear to have been a tremendous impact from the Excite@Home problems,” he said. “We haven’t seen a slowdown in growth at all, and Rogers in the fourth quarter, at an additional 56,000 subscribers, had one of its best quarters ever.”

Quigley adds, however, that Roger’s price deals may have helped.

If broadband providers like Antietam and Advanced were compelled by extreme circumstances to manage their Internet services in-house, others like Calgary-based Shaw Cable were looking for a way to end their dependence on Excite@Home, even before its demise.

“The deal that we had with @Home was one where they provided our ISP services,” says Dennis Steiger, Shaw Cable’s director of Internet Services says. “Progressively the company backed away from that deal.” Slower speeds and growing reliability problems prompted Shaw to look at alternative ways of providing its Internet services. “Ironically, at that time we had a pretty fast network,” Steiger says. “But customers that were using the proxy were experiencing dial-up kinds of speeds — which gave our network the appearance of being very slow.”

Shaw turned to Network Appliance Canada, a vendor of Internet cache appliances that move the bulk of information to the edge of the network, closer to the user. By setting up cache appliances at six locations across Canada, Shaw was able to store up to 2TB of data in locations closer to its customers. “Not only does it drop our costs of (reaching) an off-net location like Sault Ste. Marie onto our network, it also allows us to give that customer an experience which is similar (in terms of speed) to what you would get on the core network,” Steiger says. Through the use of cache appliances, Shaw was able to expand its subscriber base to locations such as Hinton, Alta., Thunder Bay, Ont. and Cranbrook, B.C.

“There’s a battle going on between the cable companies and the DSL folks,” says Jeff Goldtein, general manager of Network Appliance Canada. “And any advantage they can get from technology to improve the end-user experience means the customers will stay online longer and are less likely to switch services.”

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