Archives For Broadband

Poor Baltimore. It was one of the first cities to get Sprint’s 4G Xohm service, but it got the short end of the stick when it came to Clear rollouts. Now it appears the city is back on track for 4G service. According to Gus Sentementes on the BaltTech blog, Clearwire is hosting a blogger/tweeter meet-up tomorrow in advance of the official Baltimore Clear launch. Still no word on an actual launch date, but if the Clearwire folks are willing to talk to pesky bloggers, that’s a good sign.

Meanwhile, I still have Clear service here in the Philly area, and the signal reaches impressively far into the suburbs. Given the ubiquity of Wi-Fi and my phone-embedded 3G connection, I should ditch the 4G monthly fee, but somehow I haven’t managed to just yet.

While those of us in the know were aware RCN has been deploying customized TiVo Premiere units to all-comers in the DC area the last few weeks, a press release and updated landing page now make it official. Unlike the retail TiVo Premiere ($299), RCN’s rendition is currently limited to the the original TiVo interface. But what you gain in functionality and support is pretty substantial.

For only a few bucks more over the monthly cost of the generic RCN DVR, TiVo renters end up with a much better experience. More storage, more features, better UI. Compared to a retail TiVo, the RCN includes over 10,000 hours of On Demand content – transparently utilizing SeaChange technology and RCN broadband to get it done. While features like YouTube and TiVoToGo are enabled, and something not seen in prior relationships like DirecTV, someone has made the decision to prohibit access to Netflix and Amazon VOD. Yet it’s not a unilateral blockage of third party VOD service, as Blockbuster On Demand is available. Go figure. (Given their respective catalogs, for competitive reasons, it’d make more sense to block AMZN and BBI while allowing Netflix.)

In the long run, it’s possible a RCN-provided TiVo (max: $20/mo) could cost more than it’s retail counterpart. But official cable-co support is priceless. They will figure out any CableCARD problems. They will replace defective units. And if a better retail TiVo comes along, cancel the rental and grab it. Other than the loss of Netflix, I’m having a hard time seeing any downside.

Despite my aggravation at the FCC’s video stream earlier this week, it’s important to note that the government agency did cover several issues of weight during Thursday’s open meeting. Well, they didn’t so much cover them as agree to investigate them further.

Among the FCC’s agenda items was a proposal to create a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on how to handle the frustration of the CableCARD and create a new gateway that would connect to any type of media box or TV in the home. The idea? Open up cable services so that the TiVos and Boxee boxes of the world can compete. End game: create more choice and better quality for us, the consumers.

The FCC voted yes to the NOI, which means that now lots of folks will weigh in with their opinions and technology recommendations. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about the gateway concept (temporarily named AllVid), if only because the CableCARD initiative proved so disastrous. But certainly the idea is on the right track. As I said over on the Motorola blog, the devil is in the details.

For in-depth coverage on this week’s meeting, not to mention insightful analysis, check out these stories by Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM, Jeff Baumgartner at Light Reading Cable, and Karl Bode at Broadband Reports.

I’ve never had great luck accessing the FCC’s video streams of its open meetings, but I was hoping for a better experience this time around. No dice. After a great deal of stuttering and regular disconnects, I lost the stream of today’s meeting entirely about an hour in. It’s not my individual connection that’s at fault either. Some notable tweeps are reporting similar problems.

As a reminder, the FCC is holding its open meeting today to discuss a number of broadband reform plans, including how to bring broadband to unserved areas, how to spur innovation in the video device market, and what the heck to do about the CableCARD fiasco.

Somehow it doesn’t bode well for the national broadband plan if the FCC can’t even figure out how to get its own Internet video stream to work. Is it irony? Or just sadly predictable?

UPDATE: Stream is live again! But still stuttering.

Cablevision, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable have pooled their Wi-Fi resources to offer subscribers free access to more hotspots throughout the NYC metro area. It’s a great perk for cable subscribers in the region, and yet doesn’t take away from the appeal of mobile broadband services (specifically WiMAX) that some of these self-same cable providers are starting to offer. If you’ve ever ridden the Amtrak from Trenton to New York’s Penn Station, you know the heartbreak of briefly connecting to Wi-Fi at station stops, only to be cut off when the train starts moving again. If you truly need to be connected everywhere you go, there’s no substitute for mobile broadband service.

Which brings up an interesting point. The new Wi-Fi roaming agreement is meant to be a kick in the pants to wireless carriers providing $50 and $60-per-month data plans. But I’d be very curious to see the demographics of folks who pay those data prices on a regular basis. My guess is that if a consumer is willing to pay that kind of money to begin with, there’s probably a real need for connectivity; most likely work-related. And if the need is strong, then Wi-Fi, even lots of it, isn’t going to be enough. In the future, when carriers try to push further downmarket, Wi-Fi becomes a more credible competitor. But for now, I think it’s just a perk for cable subscribers unwilling to shell out $60 a month.

And you know what? I’m fine with that. Especially since my next trip up to NYC is never far off.