Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Comcast Revisited

December 2002

By Mike Gould

When last we reviewed the local Comcast (CC) situation, it was January 2002 and we were all recovering from the recent switchover from MediaOne and its ensuing chaos. Jim Taylor and I bravely spent some time with the Comcasters at their headquarters in Ann Arbor, and reported on various matters in a subsequent issue of B to B. During that meeting there was talk of a marketing effort by CC to sign up downtown businesses to cable broadband. Then there was silence. So Jim asked me to follow up with CC and here is what I found out.

CC Riders
I spoke with CC spokesman Rich Ruggiero, who helpfully explained the current state of CC services. There are now 3 levels of service:

The first tier is your familiar home-based broadband. You pay CC $45 month and they bring wires to your house and enable you to surf the Internet at a brisk clip. This translates to speeds of around, um, well, it varies - suffice it to say "really fast compared to 56K modems". You get email accounts, Web space, and various other stuff as part of your account. This is designed for homes and small home businesses.

(Disclosure: this is what I have at my house. My wife and I use it to access our email and I use it to run MondoDyne Web Works, my Web design business. It works pretty well; can't complain.)

What you can't do with it is host servers, i.e., computers that serve up Web pages and the like. This doesn't work because your Internet address changes from time to time (so people wouldn't be able to find you on the Internet), and because this imposes an undue bandwidth burden on your neighbors, who must share your local loop. There are lots of places out there that do hosting, but this flavor of CC isn't one of them. You can have a Web site as part of your service, but it will be part of the CC domain, not your own. Details are to be found at http://comcast.com.

Business Class Next step up is "Comcast High-Speed Internet Pro", a service introduced in May. This is designed for small businesses and provides all the regular broadband services with the added incentive of faster access. Their website at http://online.Comcast.net gives all the details, and promises speeds of up to 3.5mps/384Kps (That's 3.5 Megabits per second downloading, 384 Kilobits per second uploading). This is more than twice the speed of the regular service, and it costs about twice what regular broadband runs, $95 per month, which includes the cable modem.

The speed issue is sort of hard to pin down. What CC will tell you is that you have a potential top speed of 3.5 Mbps; whether or not you get that speed at any given moment depends on many issues beyond CC's control. These include general Internet traffic jams, the number of people on your local loop hitting the wire, and the state of the routers between you and where you want to go today.

For those not upgrading from regular broadband, there is a $29.95 Self Installation Kit or a $149 Professional installation fee to get you started.

This seems like a reasonable deal to me, assuming you have a bunch of employees who need to work online. For myself, I'd like to see an intermediate service that just provided faster service without the web space or even email. I think there would be a fairly large market, especially in Ann Arbor, for the "Pro" speed without the frills. We Web workers (and University faculty, staff and students) already have our own sites and email; we just need a fast route to them. I'd like to see a "Broadband Plus" service that costs less than $50 a month and doesn't include email and the like but has the Pro speed.

Business Classier
The top tier of CC services is offered by their Business Communications division, and here is where the good stuff is. Their Comcast Commercial Internet Service program offers extremely fast Internet access and is designed for businesses with LANs (Local Area Networks - a bunch of computers with wires connecting them) populated by up to 100 computers. There are 2 sublevels of this service, regular and Lite, and the differences are explained on their site at some URL that is so long I'm not going to bother with it here. Go to

http://www.comcastbusiness.com

and poke around; you'll find it.

This is the full-service stuff you get from an ISP, coupled with the means to get you on the Big Wire. You can host your own domain, filter your email for Bad Things, filter the Web traffic of your employees to make sure they are not looking at Bad Things - pretty much do whatever you need to make your organization fly on the Internet.

They also have a Broadband Commuter service, designed for telecommuters and executives. Their site describes this thusly:

"The Broadband Commuter product is targeted at Fortune 2000 enterprises, to ease the bulk delivery, support and life cycle management of broadband connectivity in support of formalized telecommuter programs."

All this for the cost of, um, lessee, ...I dunno. Their site doesn't say. I have a sense that it isn't cheap, but may be competitive for this arena. Call them at 888 205 5000 if you are shopping for services for your enterprise.

Me, I'll stick with the basic broadband until something better comes along in my price range.


STOP THE PRESSES
(I've always wanted to yell that) This just in as we go to press:

Comcast Merges with AT&T Broadband
Our favorite monopoly just got beefier. This has been in the works since July 2002, and the FCC just approved it (11/12/02). The new AT&T Comcast will be the largest cable provider in the nation, with more than twice the subscribers as its nearest competitor, AOL Time Warner. What this will mean for local consumers is anybody's guess: stay tuned. So to speak.

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