Carmen Branca suddenly is a popular guy. When I caught up with the Syracuse, New York-based entrepreneur he was finishing a long week of media interviews. Branca’s New Visions, a company he co-founded, had just announced it would offer high-speed Internet access to the tiny village of Solvay, New York, and many people, including Governor George Pataki, were very about the possibilities. Branca’s company generated such broad interest because it will serve its customers over Solvay’s municipally owned power lines. That fact led many trade and consumer publications, including CableFAX Daily, to report on its formation. Such technology has been in development for a few years, but until last week I had not heard of anyone attempting to make it commercially viable. That little smidgen of history, coupled with the fact I grew up in Syracuse and used to work for the cable system that serves Solvay, led me to call Branca. He was very accommodating, but offered few specifics relative to projections, market positioning or pricing. Like Jack tiptoeing through the giant’s castle, he opted to underplay his threat to cable. "I laugh when people ask me if the cable companies are worried about me," Branca said. "If I’m a cable company, I’m worried about DirecTV. I’m worried about the phone companies offering video. I’m not worried about me." Still there’s something intriguing about his business model. First, unlike video providers, he’s not assuming the liability of license fees. High-speed data is, at least at this point, a margin business. But more than that, Branca sees a staggering 90 million dial-up users out there and figures that’s a lot of low-hanging fruit. And, just like cable’s early pioneers, he figures he’d better stake his claim now, before other entrepreneurs. "The makeup of those 90 million dial-up users is going to change," he says. "Some will stay dial-up. Some will go to cable. Some will go to phone companies. Some will go to the ‘other’ category – WiMax, power lines, whatever. That’s what we are – ‘other’". He also sees his primary market as rural America, despite having launched in the country’s 80th-largest DMA. "For half the zip codes in America the broadband marketplace is a duopoly…In larger markets you might have eight different providers, but much of this country is still considered rural and those people only have two choices." Remember when cable operators were being lumped with used car salesmen and DMV clerks on the list of respected occupations? Well, to Branca’s point, that wasn’t so much a reflection on them as much as it was resentment over how little choice consumers had. And as much as many of operators still think of the Rupert Murdoch/DirecTV marriage as a death star, in unguarded moments most will admit that it wasn’t until DBS reached critical mass that they saw the needle of respect for them and their business start to move to the right. And while he’s not yet developed marketing strategies, or even a positioning statement, Branca knows that when he does one of the underlying tenets will be choice. "I’m not going after Time Warner Cable or the phone company. I’m just trying to give people just one more option for Internet access. Because, let’s face it, people like choice." Before letting Branca get on with his weekend, I asked him what benchmarks he’ll use to grade New Visions’ progress. "How will I tell if we’re successful?" he asks. "If you call again in six months and I answer the phone."

The Daily


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