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Utah Telco Puts VOD On TV Service Menu

Local telephone providers can now add yet another acronym to their service vocabulary: VOD. Powered by a very high-speed digital subscriber line (VDSL) system from Next Level Communications Inc., a small telco in rural Utah has begun to roll out video-on-demand to its digital-TV customers. It is Next Level's first such U.S. deployment.

All West Communications Inc. started to roll out VOD service in December in its home base of Kamas, Utah, and has plans to expand it to Coalville, Utah, and Evanston, Wyo.

In Coalville, All West is the incumbent telephone provider, competing against cable operator Comcast Corp. In Evanston, it competes with Adelphia Communications Corp.

All West's VOD offering taps TVN Inc. for its content lineup, distributed via Kasenna Inc. servers.

"This was actually a solution which we really built and designed for the independent operators here in North America, because of the cost-effectiveness of Kasenna on video server, and the ability to really provide interfaces that had been competitive with cable interfaces in VOD, and, of course, our platform's ability to extend from the digital broadcast TV into this other revenue opportunity," said Next Level director of marketing services Geoff Burke.

The deployment is significant for Next Level because it involves the company's widely used Full Service Access Platform. Fifty-one telcos now use Next Level technology to deploy voice, video and data in 150 cities, for a footprint of 110,00 video subscribers.

"There are over 100,000 other people around the U.S. right now that have deployed the same device, and so this is something that is really ready to roll in pretty much any deployment scenario in which Next Level has deployed its equipment today," Burke said.

Model for others

Getting the VOD system up and running with All West was also an important step in convincing other independent telcos that it could work. So far, 15 other providers have visited All West to see how the system works. Eight have indicated they will launch VOD in 2003, according to Next Level.

"We certainly looked at this as a showcase trial deployment," Burke said. "It certainly was in the plan all along that we would choose a single operator to show proof of commercial viability, and then allow our other customers and other prospects to come, look at that, and see for themselves that is something that really works."

As high-definition television is the other major new service offering for cable competitors these days, one might expect Next Level's customers would express some demand for it. Not entirely so, said Burke.

"Interestingly enough, they are coming and asking, but we haven't had anyone ask for it yet," he said. "Does our platform have the bandwidth to handle HD? No question about it. Would it be a natural incremental step for us to build, say, an HD-capable box? Yes, it would be very easy for us to do that.

"But our position to date on HDTV is that we'd be happy to take that step, if and when someone asks us or makes it a requirement of their deployment. And to date, our customers really haven't asked us for it yet."