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Access to the Digital Home

On the road to the future, all highways to the home are broadband -- but who constructs and operates those digital delivery paths is anyone's guess. Cable, satellite, telephone-TV, high-speed Internet, wireless broadband and digital terrestrial television are all pipes that can deliver high-speed digital bit-streams to the home. "They're all jockeying for position," says Gerry Kaufhold, a principal analyst at In-Stat, a market-research firm specializing in communications and broadband.

But don't reserve a ringside seat for the knockout blow -- that might be a long time in coming. "The inroads being made by wireless and other emerging technologies will take some time before they trounce any existing wireline business," Interactive TV Alliance CEO Allison Dollar says. "There will be some very interesting mergers and acquisitions."

For example, WiMAX, Intel's high-speed wireless broadband service, is not set to roll out for another two to three years. "You don't displace 68 million cable and 23 million satellite subscribers overnight," Kaufhold says.

As broadband players position themselves for a long race, U.S. teenagers are busy reinventing how we consume media. Anywhere, anytime, any way is how they like it, and thanks to tricked-out cell phones, fat broadband pipes and a Santa's bag of new portable digital devices, they're getting exactly that.

"People will be creating their own entertainment experiences, alternative distribution will allow for mixing and matching of media and file-sharing, and other tools will let that material find its own audience," Dollar predicts.

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