When I started this column in CableFAX back in 1999, after having written my columns for CATA members for over 20 years, I asked readers to make a deal with me. It was simple; think about what I was saying or suggesting (hence the title, "Think About That for a Minute" – or "TATFAM" as it is called in-house) and then when you thought there was something I missed, or could be added, or if you thought I was just totally off-base, respond! Well, last week was a banner week for responses. My column on home networking ("Buttons and Knobs," 1/15/04) generated a whole lot of email-most of it echoing my concern that there is insufficient appreciation for the difficulties involved in going into someone’s home and assuming responsibility for a complex system designed to interconnect and "network" their home for data, audio and video. Many comments came from the "front line" folks, the people out in the systems directly responsible for doing these things. A suggestion was made that maybe we should get some more CEOs and business development people to go out in the field and actually participate in some installations before they get too fired up about taking responsibility for the home network. Again, as I said last week, this is not meant to be read as a repudiation of the entire idea. Not at all. It is meant to send a strong warning that this is a very complicated service offering. That being inside someone’s home, interconnecting new and often confusing devices and then adding to the learning curve with new remote controls, navigation screens, etc., is both daunting and an inherent (even if invited) invasion of privacy. If you are going to do it, you darn well better do it right! I think it is smart for the major companies to be looking very carefully and participating in the development of standards for such things as using coax as the networking backbone in the house, or power lines, or even WiFi. But having watched (and gotten plenty of frustrated calls from friends) quite a few consumer attempts at simply putting in a WiFi system to network a cable modem to several computers in the home, complete with at least some security, I can tell you that this is not going to be a simple or painless process. Sure, it works on the first try, sometimes. But other times it does not. And then you are talking about hours (or more) of frustration leading to anger. We have to think and plan very carefully before we go there. One solution to a part of the problem, it seems to me, is another service that cable is going to offer: VOD. If our objective is to help our customers link up their DVR downstairs in the den to the set upstairs in the bedroom so that they don’t have to buy two devices and can see the movie they started to watch in either location, then another way to do that is to offer a full video on demand service from the headend. It’s just a larger "networked" system for the customer and provides the same service. The only difference is that the material is stored in a central location instead of on the tops of a lot of television sets. There are all sorts of technical and legal (copyright) implications to thinking of the "home network" this way, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

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