We at CableFAX aren’t the only ones who like to do a little research at our local CE stores (see "Eye Spy," 12/1). Smith Barney recently sent its reps out to 80 Best Buy and Circuit City locations in 26 markets across the country, asking sales associates about the advantages and disadvantages of cable and satellite HD service. The good news is that cable fared better than it did at our suburban MD Best Buy dealer earlier this month. 44% of the sales reps Smith Barney spoke to slightly favored cable HD service over satellite, which was recommended by 39%. A sizable 18% of sales associates said there was really no difference between the 2. But cable fared even better in Comcast markets, with the MSO outperforming DBS in its territories 54% to 33%. The remaining 13% recommended both services. Smith Barney’s conclusion: "Cable MSOs need to do at least as well as Comcast to avoid meaningful market share erosion to DBS." Still, it wasn’t all good news for cable. Most of the sales reps’ recommendations were based more on price and non-HD services. "Some even said that DBS had more HD content," SB said. "This suggests that cable is still doing a lousy job communicating its local HD content advantage over satellite." And just as we found on our shopping trip, DBS’ all digital format continues to be a key advantage. "Almost all the reps that recommended satellite said that, for non-HD programming, cable’s analog signals look worse than satellite’s 100% digital programming," SB reported. And while Comcast may have fared well in the HD survey, it still has more work ahead for VOD. Only 2 of the reps SB surveyed mentioned its VOD offerings, and one rep even said she preferred DirecTV’s VOD offerings to Comcast’s! Comcast performed better in legacy Comcast markets than in former AT&T Broadband markets. The one exception was Boston, where all the sales reps favored Comcast. Boston was the only place the MSO achieved a 100% score outside of its Philly market. Other findings: Only 3 locations mentioned Voom, and no one recommended it; cable performed slightly better at Best Buy than Circuit City, with twice as many reps at Circuit City indicating there was no difference between cable and DBS. We hope Niraj Gupta and his team at Smith Barney hit the stores again in a few months and report back on their findings as MSOs, such as Time Warner, have only recently began emphasizing retail distribution. Talking VoIP & Wi-Fi Should VoIP regulation be part of any rewrite of the Telecom Act? No, says Former FCC commish Harold Furchtgott-Roth, but not necessarily for the usual list of reasons, such as promoting competition. "I think it’s a mistake to have highly specific legislative language that applies to specific technologies," he said at a DC summit Tues. Furchtgott-Roth also questioned the wisdom of municipalities building out public Wi-Fi networks to "provide a service that appears to be supplied quite well by the private sector." But Georgetown Univ’s John Mayo debated how robust broadband competition truly is. "I think it’s largely a duopoly," he said, questioning why citizens in a local jurisdiction shouldn’t be able to vote on creating a muni Wi-Fi. New Entry CLEC Z-Tel confirmed yesterday that it will begin offering VoIP to residential and enterprise customers, having installed and tested an IP network in Tampa, FL. The company will add service in NYC in mid-Jan and Atlanta shortly thereafter. Z-Tel will change its name to Trinsic next month.

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