Cable’s internal and external technology picture

It’s no big secret how critical technical issues are to the cable industry. Facing these issues at the cable operating companies are the Chief Technology Officers. And putting these execs on the spot at The National Show will be cable vet Leslie Ellis. You may read Leslie’s column “Translation Please” in Multichannel News in order to help make sense of the sometimes complicated questions that our industry faces. She was honored at last year’s Show with a Vanguard Award for her work to encourage “innovation, growth and progress” in cable.

It will be well worth getting up early Monday morning for the 8:00 a.m. session “Tech Talk: Cable CTOs on What’s Now, What’s New and What’s Next,”which will feature Leslie speaking to a stellar line-up of CTOs: Chris Bowick of Cox, Dave Fellows of Comcast, Mike LaJoie of Time Warner, and Dermot O’Carroll of Rogers. Potential topics include switched video, cable’s support of mobility and portability, the potential impact of Slingbox, the technical issues that lie behind “network neutrality,” and the competitive strengths of cable’s hybrid fiber-coaxial network vs. the Bells’ Fiber-to-the-Premise structure.

On a related note, the year The National Show will be presenting its first-ever CIO Track Program. Information Technology has driven the U.S. economy over the past decade, and is now becoming more valued in the cable industry. As some folks say, with the right IT, there’s nothing you can’t do, given enough time, money and engineering.

The impact of IT on cable companies is both internal and external.It means streamlining your architecture to accommodate new lines of business in a turn-key fashion. It allows for greater personalization for consumers — whether through the set-top box or over the Internet– and lets you deliver higher levels of customer service.

The CIO Track will be running all-day next Tuesday. IT professionals from operators, programmers and vendors can sign up online and find more information here.

UPDATE: An excerpt from the panel.

    LESLIE ELLIS: Another thing that’s kind of new is — and this just seems like one of those years when the intersections between technology and regulation are many. I want to look at one of them — network neutrality. And with all due respect, we’ve all heard how many billions of dollars you guys have spent on your plant. Let’s move that aside and just look at it tactically. If this comes to pass, how do you do that? How do you make a neutral network? Would you have to un-QoS [Quality-of-Service] your voice services?

    DAVID FELLOWS: Well, Leslie, as you know, we’ve spent billions of dollars on our… (audience laughter) No, I mean. It depends on the final wording. We don’t block anyone. We have no plans to block anyone. We’re just not going to disadvantage a competitor by blocking them. We’re in the business of providing to our customers what they want. And if they want access to an AOL home page, great. If they want to use AOL Instant Messaging or e-mail addresses, terrific. But that’s different from the notion that we’ve got an IP network that we use to deliver our First Amendment-protected content and it’s different from the fact that in the end, we have to offer managed services.

    If you don’t manage the bandwidth, then you just don’t have a service you can please customers with. And so you have to balance this notion of not blocking anyone, allowing access anywhere, which are tenets of what I think cable is willing to say, with the fact we have to manage the bandwidth. We have to set aside certain things for video, certain bits for voice, certain bits for Best Efforts high-speed data Internet access.

    LESLIE ELLIS: Anyone else want to comment on that?

    MICHAEL LAJOIE: You know, I think that data’s core TCP/IP isn’t neutral. It isn’t. Protocol stack does certain things first and other things later. It drops different kinds of packets before other kinds of packets. It isn’t neutral. It never was. Routers that know each other and trust each other handle traffic from each other differently from those they don’t know and don’t trust. It’s built into TCP/IP. And so the notion of network neutrality is… I’m not sure where it even came from or how it got started. It’s kind of a marketing ploy.

    The reality is… Let’s talk about reality. Yeah, we have unsolicited grants that we utilize in the access plant for our digital phone product. So, we prioritize those packets. And some might argue that that’s not net neutral. But at the same time that we launched that product and allocated those unsolicited grants to the voice service, over the same period of time, our Best Efforts high-speed data product went from one-and-a-half Mbps to seven. So, we’re not net neutral at all. As a matter of fact, we’re very net positive. We’re spending the money to be extremely positive about the network. We’re not champing down on bandwidth, we’re growing it. And in that same time period, the average cost to the customer went down, while the product quintupled. So, we’re not neutral at all about the network, we’re very positive about the network.

    DAVID FELLOWS: Also, recall our voice bits never touch the Internet. So, it’s voice using Internet Protocol, but it’s not voice over the Internet.

    MICHAEL LAJOIE: That’s another thing, too. The idea of the public Internet is kind of a misnomer. It’s an unmanaged federation of privately-owned managed networks. It’s not public at all.

    DERMOT O’CARROLL: As Dave mentioned, we don’t block or hinder our base traffic, but we have a higher priority traffic that we charge more for. I mean, I don’t know about in the U.S., but in Canada, we have mail service. And they have a base mail service. It’s Best Efforts. They drop some packets, and eventually it gets to you. And then for quality of service, they have a priority post. You can track it. It’s on a different channel. And you pay a little more. So, I don’t see how that’s any different from what we do.

    LESLIE ELLIS: Is there anything left to say, Chris?

    CHRIS BOWICK: I think it’s been said extremely well. When you look at what we’ve done over the last several years and the fact that our data growth, at least from a Cox perspective, over the last two years, has doubled every year. And consumption has increased exponentially, it’s just absolutely amazing. We don’t intend to block any access. Either from what our customers would like to get on the Net or block our competitors on our plant. That’s not the intent. But, do I anticipate that we will have to un-QoS telephone? Heck, no. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think David nailed it. We have to be able to manage our networks appropriately, because these are, in fact, managed networks and we need to manage the traffic on the networks.

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