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SBC’s Set-Top Brings DBS, DSL Together

For years, the cable industry has had the ability to deploy a cable modem inside a set-top box that would allow consumers to peruse the Internet using their TV sets.

But the industry has never deployed the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification-based technology, because executives don’t think many consumers would want to watch Internet content on TV.

There was also an unspoken concern that cable companies didn’t want to devalue video subscriptions by pushing an Internet-based video alternative.

Last week, SBC Communications Inc. smashed through that thinking, announcing a joint venture with 2Wire Inc. to build a set-top box that houses EchoStar Communications Corp. technology for watching traditional direct-broadcast satellite programming and a port that would link to a customer’s SBC Yahoo! digital subscriber line service.

In effect, consumers could watch TV and surf the Internet through their TV, integrating Dish Network programming, digital video recorder capabilities, video-on-demand and Internet content (including music and photos) in a set-top box, using an SBC Yahoo! user interface.

The offering will be available to customers who have both SBC/Dish Network and SBC Yahoo! DSL service, and is expected to roll out in mid 2005.

The initial goal is to drive more subscribers to DSL, said SBC executive director of broadband operations Lee Culver.

“We think this product will help expand the market for DSL, for new subscribers that don’t have any broadband service,” he said.

But SBC also will target the new service to its current DSL/Dish homes.

The company leases its Dish set-top for $4.95 per month. The new box from 2Wire, which contains all the essential Dish hardware, will likely be leased for the same price, Culver said.

Existing DSL/Dish subscribers will get the added benefit of accessing Internet content on their TV screens at no additional cost.

The service will allow consumers to view movies, music videos and even digital photographs on their TV sets, opening up the Internet’s wide programming vaults beyond the limited capacity of TV offerings, Culver said.

Subscribers would see an SBC Yahoo! home page on their TV screen, guiding them through both the broadband and Dish offering.

“It’s a common user interface,” he said.