The question of who, exactly, is delivering Internet service to cable customers is knotty at best, because many cable companies offer Internet service under different guises and with multiple service delivery partners. Even customers of high-speed access over cable who responded to our survey werent completely clear on who their providers are.
When analyzing the results of this years survey, we wondered who the customer was actually rating: the cable company, which provides installation, first line customer support and last mile connectivity; or the likes of EarthLink, Excite@Home and Road Runner, which provide everything else? The answer is, probably both.
Faced with this dilemma, we decided to combine the answers for all of the Excite@Home customers, except those who identified themselves as AT&T Broadband customers, into one population, and did the same for Road Runner.
The future will be even more perplexing. The tectonic plates of the cable world promise to move due to mergers and shifting alliances, and perhaps even the collapse of Excite@Home. If cable companies begin opening their networks to multiple ISPs, things will become even more complex.
Under current conditions, in some areas Cox Communications offers service from Excite@Home, a company that is 23 percent owned and 74 percent controlled by AT&T; while in other areas it offers Road Runner service, which is owned by AOL Time Warner. The service Cox delivers through Excite@Home is called Cox@Home, and the Road Runner Service is called Cox Road Runner.
Charter Communications is similarly complex. Charter offers Internet access through EarthLink under the Charter Pipeline brand in some regions, while in other regions it offers cobranded service through Excite@Home called Charter@Home. AT&T Broadband offers AT&T@Home service and continues to offer Road Runner service in the territories previously covered by MediaOne.
And by next year, it will all be different again. Excite@Homes long-term cable partners Comcast and Cox say they will end their exclusive relationships with the troubled high-speed Internet service provider on June 4, 2002. The decision frees the cable companies to forge partnerships with other ISPs, or they could continue to work with their old partner. At the end of June, Cox and Comcast accounted for about 1.3 million of Excite@Homes 3.7 million customers.
If Excite@Home goes through bankruptcy reorganization, look for Level 3 Communications, Qwest Communications International and UUnet to provide backbone services. The network companies are unlikely to provide ISP services themselves and instead would strike retail service deals with cable companies or other providers.
Other new entrants to the already complex broadband landscape could include major movie studios, which recently reached a pact to share their movie libraries, selling films to consumers in a scheme that may supplant traditional ISPs or create new opportunities for them.