By Amy Maclean Portal Wars With content deals set with SBC and Verizon, it seems Yahoo is established as the telcos’ US content partner. After all, wouldn’t a cable op want to develop its own portal offerings to differentiate itself from the RBOCs’ Yahoo-branded DSL? Not necessarily. "In the cable industry, there is a wide disparity in terms of resources; Comcast isn’t in the same category as a Charter" when it comes to creating a portal, argues Steve Boom, Yahoo svp for broadband access and bundled services. Yahoo’s content deals are platform agnostic, he says, pointing to a recent deal with Canadian MSO Rogers. "We are investing tens of millions of dollars in building out the best portal experience bar none," he says, adding that cable-modem subs are using Yahoo regularly. "We know how many Comcast.net subs go to Yahoo. I’m willing to bet that I’m doing better than they are." But MSOs-at least the big guys-don’t seem very interested in a portal partnership. Comcast continues to ramp up its portal with features like video email, media viewer "The Fan" and free premium offerings from companies such as Disney. Earlier this week, Time Warner Cable said it’s hooking up with AOL so its Road Runner HSD subs could enjoy some of AOL’s premium features at no extra charge. What’s more, the co-branded AOL service is being marketed to cable operators, and conversations are already underway. So, Yahoo has quite a bit of competition in the cable space. Nonetheless, Yahoo’s ’05 to-do list includes branching out beyond large partnerships and looking at how to go to market with smaller companies, Boom says. Another objective high on Yahoo’s list is helping partners deliver on the bundle of integrated services. One of the 1st examples of this should come in the 2nd half of the year when SBC begins rolling out "HomeZone," an integrated set-top that combines an EchoStar DBS receiver with a DSL modem and DVR (the media center can also be used with SBC’s FTTH U- Verse service). Yahoo is working with SBC on HomeZone’s interactive features, which will likely include integrating Yahoo’s personalized settings, its movie portal channel and Internet Radio onto HomeZone, Boom says. Next year, Yahoo will concentrate more on mobile phone integration. "These partnerships to date have been focused on acquiring new subscribers, but as [our partners’] focus is growing around the bundle … the value of the bundle needs to be more than $5 off/month. Our partners believe the portal is the foundation to integrating across all these services, video, data and voice." Yahoo’s partnership model features monthly access fees, similar to what an operator pays a network for video services. Its business plan allows partners to share revenue generated through advertising, sponsored searches and a la carte premium services, such as Yahoo Personals. Rural Broadband Qwest will bring DSL to nearly 12 small towns and rural communities in Nebraska this year. In addition, as many as 39 communities could receive HSD access in the next 2 years, it says. So far, 28 communities in NE have access to Qwest Choice DSL. — Satellite broadband venture WildBlue is gearing up for a 2Q launch. Its lowest priced package is $49.95/month; it features download speeds of up to 512Kbps. For $69.95/month, customers get up to 1.0Mbps. Users can pay an additional $4.95/month for dial-up access. The $79.95/month premium package includes dial-up access and features speeds up to 1.5Mbps.