Cable Firms Eye Businesses

Cox, Comcast among those aiming high-speed links at commercial market.

As DSL options for high-speed Internet access continue to dwindle, cable companies are moving aggressively into the commercial market with services designed to overcome user concerns about security and reliability.

This week, Cox Business Services, a division of Cox Communications Inc., is rolling out a managed virtual private network product in all its 22 franchise markets, providing encryption services for enterprises that need more security than regular cable access provides.

In addition, Comcast Business Communications, a unit of Comcast Corp., is expanding its integrated enterprise offerings—currently available only in Baltimore—to Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Delaware.

Although preconceptions about the shared-loop nature of cable continue to dampen business-user demand, analysts say the technology is equivalent to other low-cost alternatives in almost all respects. "The fact that the local part of the cable network is shared is a red herring," said Joshua Wise, an analyst at Allied Business Intelligence, in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Whether businesses use DSL (digital subscriber line), cable or dial-up connections, they should also install firewalls or other advanced security features if they are concerned about protecting data, Wise said.

Wilson, Okamoto & Associates Inc. migrated from a dial-up connection to cable broadband service delivered by Oceanic Cable, an affiliate of New York-based AOL Time Warner Inc., more than two years ago. The Honolulu-based engineering company, which uses Oceanics Road Runner service primarily for Internet access and file transfer, found the cable offering a better value than the DSL alternative and has not been disappointed.

"Sometimes, the connection is a little bit slow, but its been adequate," said Ernest Takahashi, IS manager. "Its definitely secure enough for our purposes."

The company was sufficiently satisfied with Oceanics service to add Web hosting.

Cox Business Services offerings, including advanced voice and data transport in addition to Internet access, are available across the companys entire footprint. But because early network deployments focused on reaching homes, only about half of the businesses in its 22 markets are "serviceable" today, according to John Chesnutt, regional vice president at Cox, in Atlanta.

Providing service to the remaining half requires further network extensions, Chesnutt said. "Were now in the business of filling in the holes," he said. "We fill them in as we get customer requests."

Last month, Cox began offering tiered Internet access service, allowing enterprises to choose bandwidth from 12K-bps symmetrical service for $59 per month to a T-1-equivalent link on the downstream, priced accordingly.

The limited upstream throughput offered by cable continues to limit its usefulness to many enterprises, however. "Unfortunately, I dont think the cable industry has made enough headway on this yet," Allieds Wise said.

In Baltimore, Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Delaware, enterprises can buy integrated Internet access, Web hosting, data networking, and local and long-distance voice services from Comcast Business Communications, in Philadelphia.