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Putting High-Speed Customers on Alert

Perftech Bulletin Services Ltd., a San Antonio-based software company, is pitching cable operators a bulletin service product for high-speed customers that could be used for a variety of customer support, marketing and even public-service issues.

The “Bulletin” line allows MSOs to send messages that show up on a high-speed user’s screen as they surf the Web. The bulletins could range from alerts about a virus that may reside on their PC to information about an upcoming planned outage.

“We can insert information into the [Internet-protocol] traffic flow,” said PerfTech president Rod Frey.

The company’s executives are former Nortel Networks Inc. employees who began exploring product options for broadband providers several years ago. While brainstorming with local cable executives, Frey came upon the idea of a bulletin service for high-speed data subscribers.

At the time, a virus had been causing problems within a local cable system, Frey said. But sending out an e-mail message was inefficient because some subscribers didn’t use their e-mail at all, while others used addresses from other providers like America Online or MSN.

Instant messaging would have required the system to install a client inside a customer’s PC, something the MSO was loath to do. It also would have required the creation of a large database file, which held little appeal for system officials.

That left telephone calls or direct mail, Frey said — both inefficient and costly means for sending out alerts.

Armed with that knowledge of these shortcomings, Perftech executives set out to create bulletin software for broadband providers that would cover customer support, system issues, marketing and promotions and even lost-child Amber Alerts.

A more extensive list of alerts appears on Perftech’s Web site, including notices for planned outage; unplanned outage; abuse and quarantine; Internet congestion and emergency alerts; real-time billing problems; MSO promotions; service explanation and promotion; cable-modem firmware upgrades; contract violation redistribution; and WiFi and cable-access issues.

“We work inside the router structure of the system,” Frey explained.

Perftech has built a scalable line of several “Bulletin Director” single-rack units that fit inside a broadband provider’s network operations center, alongside the system’s router. The Bulletin Director 10 unit can send bulletins to 10,000 subscribers, while its 1000 product line can reach 400,000 data subscribers.

The device works with a management-software program that allows an MSO to create bulletins and manage the distribution of those bulletins to data subscribers. Operators can also send bulletins to the entire subscriber base or any subset of users.

“It stays out of their control path,” Frey said, so actual data streams remain undisturbed. Bulletins appear on the top portion of the PC screen as a consumer moves from one Web site to another. The MSO can decide whether the bulletin will take up a small portion or the entire screen.

The Perftech software also can monitor the headers of IP traffic going to the home. So if a consumer is in the midst of a secure bank transaction, for instance, a bulletin would be delayed in transmission until the consumer is browsing a typical Web page.

The scheduling is flexible, Frey said, and is up to the MSO. For example, an important alert about a MyDoom virus might be delivered several times, versus a bulletin on a planned outage scheduled for the middle of the night.

PerfTech said WideOpenWest has deployed the bulletin software across its entire footprint, for use in virus alerts to consumers., a local ISP in San Antonio that uses Time Warner Cable’s platform, is also using Bulletin Director.

Perftech also is talking to all the major MSOs about using the product. Some are interested in the virus alert features, he said, which could cut down on customer service calls, and thus save money, while others are interested in using the service for marketing and promotional campaigns.