CableLabs Seeks Modem Database

Eager to promote retail sales of cable modems, MSOs have
tapped Cable Television Laboratories Inc. to set up a "service-locator"
database, providing potential customers with information about service availability in
different areas.

Many details of the new system remain to be worked out. But
the goal is to have it up and running quickly, CableLabs president and CEO Richard Green

"This is something that will help our customers know
what types of PCs and modems to buy, and that can be applied to other service categories,
as well," he said.

Starting in July 2000, next-generation set-top boxes will
be offered for sale directly to consumers, which will increase the need for information
about service availability.

CableLabs is close to issuing a request for proposals on
the software segment of the OpenCable set-top standards project, which has already begun
interoperability testing of hardware.

The industry has been kicking around the idea of creating a
central source of information about high-speed-data service availability for some time,
with discussions having focused on the sharing of such information between leading
data-service providers Road Runner and Excite@Home Corp.

Using CableLabs to spearhead the effort assures that
information on service availability from virtually all service providers will be
collected, Green said. "We're not asking MSOs to supply any information they don't
want to share, so there's no barrier where that's concerned," he added.

The information will include the types of data services
offered and the areas in which service is available, which can vary on a
neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis within any given franchise territory.

While the focus is on providing a database that encourages
retail distribution of modems built to the Data Over Cable System Interface Specification
standard, the information will also cover services delivered over proprietary modem
systems, which will help those retail sales, too, Green said.

"A major objective for the industry is to get DOCSIS
modems built into computers," he added. "Once the service-locator system is up
and running, a customer will be able to go to the database and determine if it makes sense
to buy, say, a Dell [Computer Corp.] computer with a cable modem built in. That makes it
easier for Dell to offer PCs with built-in cable modems."

The cable industry has been at a disadvantage in the push
into retail as it competes for high-speed-data customers against major telephone companies
offering asymmetrical-digital-subscriber-line service.

Large telcos, with market footprints covering multiple
states, can readily provide information about general service availability to anyone
buying modems at retail stores or via mail order.

But telcos have the added burden of providing information
about specific lines, as well as neighborhoods, insofar as service has to be qualified on
a line-by-line basis.

"This will make us more competitive against the
telephone industry because we can provide a database that leaves no doubt about whether
service is available," Green said.

The service-locator initiative -- which was approved last
month at a meeting of the executive committee of CableLabs' board -- will involve hiring
an outside contractor to operate the database. Other details to be worked out include how
to tap the database -- via Web sites, 800 numbers or other means.

While CableLabs' plate is so full that few new initiatives
are anticipated in the coming year, the organization also has a mandate to pursue
specifications for a cable-friendly home-networking system.

Earlier this summer, as previously reported, the initiative
was deemed all but certain, as CableLabs staff members stepped up the pace of their
research into various options. Now the process is definitely a go, Green said.