Cable Modems: Is the Price Right?
Friday, August 13, 1999 at noon.
Home Internet connection speeds have steadily increased over the last few years, but many of us Web crawlers are still craving more speed. Fortunately, two high speed options that might not break the bank, ADSL and cable-modem access, are starting to hit the D.C. area.
Fast Forward's Mike Musgrove and Media General Cable's Bob Mechlin were online Friday at noon to talk about one of these options: cable-modem access, which offers the promise of 1.5 Mbps downloads (about 30 times faster than a 56 kbps modem). Mechlin also fielded questions about his company's cable Web access deployment program in Fairfax and discussed how affordably-priced high-speed Web access will change the way we use the Internet.
Hello all- Rob "the Mind" Pegoraro is off today, so it looks like I'll get to fill in as the host of today's chat. My guest is Bob Mechlin of Media General Cable. Bob's going to be talking about Media General's new Road Runner cable-modem access service which has just been rolled out in Fairfax county.
Bob, I hope we were able to get you hooked up in time-- you out there?
Adams Morgan: Is cable-modem access available yet in DC?
Mike Musgrove: Starpower (which also has its sights set on Fairfax) hasn't been marketing their cable-modem access in DC very loudly because it is only available in a few areas right now. District Cablevision plans to roll out @Home cable-modem service by the end of the year. Which brings up a question for me, actually- Bob, can you explain the relationship of Media General to Road Runner to Time Warner? What's the difference between @Home and Road Runner..?
Bob Mechlin: Road Runner is a Joint venture of Time Warner Inc. and MediaOne Group with Microsoft and Compaq formed ServiceCo (Road Runnerís parent company) in 1998. Like @Home, they provide Internet access through your local cable service into your home computer. Road Runner currently has over 320,000 subscribers in the US and Canada.
Alexandria: Why does Media General charge people with limited cable the same fee-price as those who do not have cable? While the price difference is "only" 10 dollars, for those on a budget it makes a big difference.
Bob Mechlin: The pricing structure was designed to give our expanded cable TV customers a discount on the service.
Burke, Va: I have a friend who has your service and lives about a mile away from me in Burke, but I cannot get your service yet. Why is this, and can I look forward to getting it anytime soon?
Bob Mechlin: Our ability to offer the service is based on our cable line infrastructure and our fiber upgrade plans. It is quite possible that you could have someone close by getting the service and you cannot.
Arlington, VA: I have been seriously considering for some time the move to a broadband internet connection. I am concerned though, since I have heard that elsewhere in the country, this opens your personal computer to a hacker-cracker attack since you have a static IP address. What are either broadband services planning on doing to help the consumer deal with this problem?
Bob Mechlin: Road Runner gives out dynamically assigned IP addresses to it's customers. These IP addresses are publicly registered IP addresses that can be found by potential hackers on the internet. Being connected all the time and having access to broadband bandwidth makes Road Runner customers an appealing target to hackers. Because of this we have extensive security measures in place to deny hackers the ability to get to our users. We filter on TCP/IP ports, block netbeui traffic, and have a host of other measures in place as well to ensure the security of our home users.
Fairfax, VA: When will Roadrunner offer static IPs? and will they eventually raise the uplink-downlink speeds? to what?
Bob Mechlin: We are working on the static IP issue and haven't made a decision. There are no easy solutions to provide this service in a residential setting. Please check back with us on this issue.
Springfield, VA: Hello! i don't know anything about cable modems! what are the advantages of a cable modem over traditional phone line connections? and costwise, how does it compare? is it available in springfield? i'm going to buy my first computer - and am intrigued by all deals being offered to buyers who'll sign up for THREE years of isp service. This seems like a really long time, considering how fast things change. any input-advice would be appreciated. thanks -
Bob Mechlin: I suggest that you visit our website at www.mgcable.com/roadrunner in order to get a better understanding of the advantages. You can also pre-register and we will let you know about availability.
Silver Spring, MD: Do you think or when do you think the popularity of internet access thru cable will increase enough to make it as affordable as standard phone line access?
Bob Mechlin: Standard phone line access is 56K. What you are paying for that bandwidth is far higher than the price we charge of $49.99 for 1500K. So if you are willing to pay $20.00 for 56K it is clear that $50.00 for 30 times that speed is not too expensive.
I understand that the more people who use a system, the slower each modems speed is. When will media general reach that slow down in speed?
Bob Mechlin: Our intent is to monitor the performance of our network and engineer it so that slowdown in speed does not become an issue for our customers. We have several methods to increase our capacity and we will use as appropriate.
Fairfax: I signed up for road runner, in January, its a great service and the speed is incredible. faster then my office t-1, if only the support was better....
Bob Mechlin: Thank you for your compliments on our service. We have had far more demand for the service than we expected. We are currently hiring more customer service reps to keep up with the demand. Please bare with us through our growing pains.
Washington, DC: I don't like the fact that other cable modem users on my node of the cable network may be able to see resources on my machines if your technicians don't set up the software properly. Can I use winproxy or windows 98 Internet Connection Sharing with your cable modem? Do your installation technicians know enough about the software to actually help configure it? And, can I use any 10Mb or 100 MB ethernet card with your cable modem?
Bob Mechlin: It is not possible for other users on the same cable segment as you to see resources on your computer unless you specifically setup your computer for file sharing. The installation tech will install the Road Runner login manager and Internet Explorer 5.0, they will also configure your computer to use DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol), so that it can obtain an IP address from our DHCP server. We have IP filters in place to prevent other users from seeing your computer or the data you are sending across the cable network. The DOCSIS cable modem standard we have adopted allows for the use of 40 or 56-bit DES encryption. We will be using this encryption algorithm to provide you with a private encryption key that only you will share with the broadband cable router. Your data and computer will remain totally secure as long as you do not enable file or print sharing and are not running any type of TCP/IP or socket server, such as ftp.
Centreville, VA: Do I have to have a technician do the installation on my machine? I do not like the idea of having someone I do not know inside my PC, other than the OEM. I am very meticulous about my PC upkeep and software configurations. I'd much rather do it myself and then just plug into your connection. If I can do that myself, will you discount the installation?
Bob Mechlin: You may perform the entire PC installation yourself. Currently there is a discount for providing your own NIC card. $79.99 vs. $99.99.
Mike Musgrove: Bob, I was wondering- Is there any chance people will be able to get cable-modem access and also choose which Internet service provider they want to use in the near future? How about people that want to use America Online?
Bob Mechlin: There are no cable systems in the country who currently allow other ISPs to lease their pipe. There is a lot of controversy throughout the country on this subject. The cable industry is spending a lot of money to upgrade their infrastructure. The FCC is leaning towards our not having to open up our pipe.
Can you tell us about how much of a premium those of use who don't subscribe to cable TV will pay to use cable modems? $0-month? $15-month?
Mike Musgrove: Yes Bethesda, there is a premium- I was just looking at Cable TV Montgomery's pricing and services, and, if I did my math right, it looks like you would actually be saving a buck or two to get their cheapest cable package plus a limited package of 10 hours of cable-modem access per month rather than just getting cable-modem access alone. If you want unlimited access, that'll cost you $64.95 a month if you're a subscriber or $84.95 a month if you're not. Too rich for my blood, but I don't live there anyway... Bob, how does this work out at Media General?
Bob Mechlin: For an expanded basic cable service subscriber we charge $49.99. If you have limited basic or no cable service we charge $59.99 or a difference of $10.00. Both of these prices are for unlimited, always on access.
Bakercorp, VA: Does the cable modem speed depend on the current speed of the internet at that given time??
Bob Mechlin: Road Runner cable modems are throttled to 1.5mb (megabits-per-second) downstream and 192kbps (kilobits) upstream. This means that you can receive data at up to 1.5mb from the internet and send data at up to 192kbps over the internet.
Chevy Chase, MD:
Do either of you have any idea when Cable Montgomery will stop with the upstream-via-modem nonsense and offer bidirectional cable modems?
Mike Musgrove: According to Cable TV Montgomery's VP of Information Services, they are currently in "Upgrade" mode and will start transitioning their from upgrade-via-modem to 2-way cable modem connectivity later this month/next month. Bob, which sort of service does Media General Cable offer?
Bob Mechlin: I heard from a Cable TV Montgomery customer last night that he is being offered @Home which is a 2way service.
Dunn Loring, VA: Our family already has MGC's cable "Road Runner" service, and we really like the speed. But when we asked about hooking up a second computer, we were told to try to figure it out for ourselves or get ready for a hefty service charge. Well, we're not great technicians, and of course we'd rather not spend oodles on the service. It seems to me you'll be fielding a lot of such concerns as "Road Runner" spreads. Are you making preparations for handling this large volume of vanilla, perhaps repetitive, questions and concerns in the near future? Your customers would be grateful!
Bob Mechlin: Our recommendation for 2nd, 3rd computers, etc. is for customers to have a network setup in their homes. This is quite inexpensive from a setup standpoint and once done we can provide the Road Runner service for $9.99 per additional simultaneous user. Although today we do not perform the network installation work, we expect to have partnership arrangements in the near future that will provide these additional services. I would suggest that you contact your favorite computer retailer to have this setup now. Thanks for the suggestion. By the way, wireless in-home network installations are now available at most retailers.
Washington, DC: How long until your merger with Cox is completed? Will your cable modems service be switching over to -Home when it does?
Bob Mechlin: The switchover to Cox Communications should happen this Fall. Our current plans are to continue to offer the Road Runner service.
Baltimore County, MD: I currently rent my cable modem out a concern for reliability of the equipment. Do you foresee a time when it will be to my advantage to buy a modem out-right or is the technology still changing?
Bob Mechlin: Absolutely. I expect that most cable modems will be purchased within the next couple of years from computer retailers. The technology is changing and coming down in price rapidly. I think by late 2000 or early 2001 you will definitely want to buy your modem.
Ashburn, VA: Where do you stand on "open access" as publicized by the AT&T-AOL lobbying controversy?
Bob Mechlin: Our position would be that of the entire cable industry in regards to "open access".
Hi there -
Bob Mechlin: You are probably calling StarPower/RCN. They do offer cable modem service in DC. The reason they may not offer the service in your area currently is because of the expense and time needed to build the infrastructure. There may be a DSL solution in your area.
I have heard concerns that if you have cable internet service and too many people sign on at one time the service could be greatly reduced. How true is this? And what will be done if this is the case on a regular basis?
Bob Mechlin: Since all the users on a single cable tree are sharing the same "pipe", it is true that as the users increase and their usage increases, available bandwidth will decrease.
Centreville: I live about 1 mile from your Chantilly Media General Cable, Office why can't we get access yet? When will you have the lines connected? What type of lines are you going to connect on the back end to connect to the Backbone or Network? Do we as a consumer have to worry about you oversubscribing the lines, which will affect the speed of our connections?
Bob Mechlin: We are offering the service where ever it is technically possible today. At the same time we are upgrading our network with fiber that will add more availability. Unfortunately we don't have a schedule for your area yet. Our backbone network is typically in the OC3 range, or 155MBPS. Our intent is to monitor performance and add capacity as necessary to prevent the mentioned slowdowns.
arlington, va: Do you offer service in Arlington? Cable TV Arlington is a RIP OFF!
Bob Mechlin: We do not offer service in Arlington.
Ay yi yi. Sorry folks, looks like our server blew up for a few minutes there. Will we still be having server problems when we have all the bandwidth we want?
There are many companies out there upgrading the Internet backbone to solve this pending issue. We will constantly be upgrading our cable network. The internet as a whole will most likely be following suit.
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