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Marshall: Tech Worries Fading

Once upon a time, cable operators resisted those who pressured them to open their networks to competing Internet-service providers, arguing that it would pose a technical nightmare.

But as cable-modem platforms have evolved, that's no longer the case, said AT&T Broadband senior vice president of advanced broadband services Susan Marshall.

AT&T plans to add EarthLink Inc. as an alternative ISP, and that's possible because of the new network the MSO created to replace the bankrupt At Home Corp.'s platform.

At Home was built "before anybody even knew what open access was," Marshall said. "Well, either for good or for bad, the At Home demise then gave us the opportunity to build the network the way we now know it needed to be built."

Using source-based routing, ISPs can connect into AT&T Broadband's new network in each major market, or link with parent AT&T Corp.'s nationwide backbone.

The physical connections may be simpler, but the service issues are still complex. As a result, AT&T Broadband and EarthLink have spent a good deal of time working out the service handoffs.

But nothing technical stands in the way of adding more ISPs.

"It's really consumer-driven, so it doesn't really matter to us if there is one ISP behind us or there is five," Marshall said. "A large portion of it is common to any ISP, and then just building common interfaces."