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Demystifying the Meaning of Broadband

You might have it in your home or at work. It's been around for a couple of years in various forms. Some of us remember wondering aloud if it's one word or two (and spell check doesn't care). It's still not a friendly term for many of us.

MediaOne Group Inc. made it part of its brand. AT & T Broadband is reflecting that effort in its newest image advertising campaign. Turn on the radio, someone will mention it.

Do a keyword search on Yahoo!, and you'll get hundreds of citations. Pick up a copy ofTheWall Street Journalor evenUSA Today-it will be there. Trade publishers are even naming new publications after it.

"It" is broadband, but many of us still might not be sure what itis. It might be clichéto start an article with aWebster's Dictionarydefinition, but when was the last time you looked it up? Broadband (adj. or n.): of or relating to a wide band of electromagnetic frequencies.OK, maybe that didn't help. Admittedly, our industry has had a hard time agreeing on a definition, and if we can't define it, how can we expect our customers to buy it, use it or watch it?

Which is precisely why the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing Broadband/High-Speed Internet Committee decided it's time to scrutinize the conundrum of broadband-that is, to realistically evaluate the challenges and take control of the opportunities in greater depth than we have in the past. Clearly, we all need to get our heads around the meaning of broadband and carefully assess how it is changing and will change the lives of consumers and our businesses. When the future arrives, we intend to be in it.

Hence, the first all-broadband cable industry product development and marketing conference was conceived and scheduled for this week in Santa Clara, Calif.The Broadband Opportunityis CTAM's inaugural, independent conference of marketing leaders, operations executives and visionaries, from MSOs, cable systems, programming networks, Internet content, technology and middleware companies, who will gather to address the then, now and when of cable's broadband services.

Whether "it" is high-speed access, interactive programming, personal video recording, video-on-demand, video streaming, email, advertising, e-commerce, and/or Internet content-these revenue streams, along with many we haven't even begun to consider, are ours for the taking. However, if we're going to succeed in this business, then we've got to cut through the hype, focus on the customer and get it right.

There is a good deal of data available supporting the notion of broadband opportunity. Goldman Sachs & Co. predicts that U.S. cable broadband penetration will top 20 million by 2008. The Yankee Group says 83 millions households will have access to digital cable services by 2005. Forrester Research says that by 2002 more than half of U.S. households will interact with program guides and one-fifth with programs and commercials.

The Myers Group discovered that broadband leaders, including Internet companies, content creators and advertisers, not only recognize the extraordinary potential of cable's broadband pipe, but would like the industry to hurry up so they can get on board.

Clearly, we've got a lot to learn and precious little time in which to learn it. As conference co-chairs, along with the planning committee and the CTAM staff, we have dedicated ourselves to creating an environment where the players in this arena can connect, understand one another's businesses, share success stories, create strategic plans, do deals and, essentially, get it right.

There are sessions covering everything from relevant consumer research to selling cable modems, from the best marketing of high-speed services to making interactive services a reality. This is a hands-on, down-and-dirty look at how the technology works, how to market it to the broadband consumer, and at what it takes to make it all viable.

The planning committee set some lofty goals in producing this conference. We knew that the program had to start and end with the customer, that technology is just the means, and that, ultimately, new products and services must be profitable. But for those of you not attending the conference, we are confident this is just the beginning.

We believe this conference serves as another call to action for the worlds of cable, Internet, interactive and entertainment to join together and demystify broadband. We hope it's a catalyst for our becoming a learning industry, focused on our consumers and connected with our future partners in experimentation, exploration and implementation. That is the only way we will make our opportunities a reality.

Oh, and we have developed our own definition of "it:" All the cool new stuff that will entertain, inform and educate consumers, and perhaps even make their lives simpler. You know-broadband.

Dean Gilbert, the former executive vice president and general manager of Excite@Home Co
rp., and Kate McEnroe, president of AMC Networks, are co-chairs of the CTAM Broadband/High-Speed Internet Committee.