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Unique Content Will Differentiate Broadband

Cable World tells the story -- Dare we say it? Broadband speeds offered by cable and the telcos are likely to cancel each other out, leaving content to become the differentiator. Meaning, yes, content will remain king. Consumers ultimately will decide what is most compelling, and worthy of their time and attention.

Bill Garrett has a simple mission: Knock cable operators off the top of Broadband Mountain. "We want to offer all the services consumers want," Verizon's director of broadband services says. "You need enough bandwidth coming into the home to provide all of those services simultaneously."

While the bandwidth battle has historically favored MSOs' faster cable-modem wires over telcos' digital subscriber lines, Verizon and AT&T's deployment of fiber networks with 100 Mbps mojo is changing the balance of power. "Cable has a capacity issue that it's going to have to work through," insists Garrett.

What this drag-strip trash talk really means is that broadband competitors will eventually reach virtual speed parity and, like the superpowers of the Cold War, could arrive at a stalemate. As a result, providing exclusive content and applications to broadband customers might provide the crucial competitive edge.

"High-speed data pipes are quickly being commoditized," says Tanya VanCourt, VP and general manager of ESPN Broadband and Interactive Television. "Providers have to figure out how to differentiate themselves and their relevance to their audience."

On the operators' side of the speed race, DOCSIS 2.0 specs max out at around 30 Mbps, so CableLabs is working furiously on DOCSIS 3.0, which could allow MSOs to exceed even 100 Mbps using "channel bonding" technology. Channel bonding is a way to use several 6 MHz channels for broadband data simultaneously, thereby increasing overall bit rates.

"There's mind-share with the consumer about speed," notes Steve Cook, Time Warner Cable's VP and general manager, product management. "But we have the technology to be able to match the telcos' speeds."

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