Advanced services have impacted training regimens at the cable operators in obvious ways as evidenced by the courses offered at the industry’s associations and training organizations. At Jones/NCTI, six years ago there were only two courses that addressed an installer’s job; today, there are nine, including a series on networking. Meanwhile, the SCTE has begun exploring ways to help its members grapple with new technologies, applications and specifications, including PacketCable 2.0, for example. "We [will] help the engineering community embrace it and understand what it will do and as the technical operations folks begin to understand what it is and how it will impact the network," says Marv Nelson, vice president, professional development, SCTE. Yet, at the same time, operators cannot forget about the basics, especially in their training programs. Sloppy workmanship in the outside plant, for example, could put a damper on a flashy new service. "[Advanced services] can get a little fussy in an improperly maintained plant," Ron Hranac, technical leader, broadband marketing, Cisco Systems, says, noting a renewed need for system sweeping and amplifier alignment. The drop The drop is an area for concern. "When you calculate the total number of miles of plant in the cable network, there is significantly more drop cable than any other type of cable in the network. When you realize that and [look at] the number of connectors that hook into the broader network, it is easy to start understanding how sloppy work at the drop can cause problems," says Alan Babcock, NCTI chief learning officer. The cable ops have indeed realized it. Hranac says he knows of one company that had to replace 20 percent of its drops when it switched to 256-QAM. And, at Comcast, the drop is a key focus for technicians, especially since the rollout of All Digital Simulcast and Comcast Digital Voice. "Drop mitigation testing is an essential task that needs to be done on every job to ensure each customer drop has less than the minimum acceptable level of noise ," says Bill Hyndman, Comcast University VP technical operations learning and development. " The mitigation testing and proper troubleshooting, which is emphasized in training, are keys to our success in providing the best level of service to our customers." Cox also is working to create an awareness of the importance of the drop, says Phil Hoffman, manager of technical training, consulting. "All services have an interdependency upon each other …. What does it mean to ensure the drop is done right the first time in order to cut down on repeat trouble calls as new layers are added on?" "We need to allow time for quality rather than quantity," he says. Testing Aside from proper installation, technicians need to be trained on how to use testing equipment and how to interpret the results. "It is important to understand when they are taking the reading at the tap or in the customer premises, what determines whether that reading is good or bad and how it impacts services," Hoffman says. Companies are placing more emphasis on laboratory learning. "People can experience the products, install them, and maintain them in an atmosphere that is safe and doesn’t impact customers," says Doug Daut, director of technical and safety training for Charter. Comcast University also has enhanced its labs and incorporated Web-based tools. For example, it has implemented a training scenario for an HD customer that uses a simulated home theater. A technician can drag and drop icons that represent hardware to the appropriate connection. "We are working to replicate potential technical issue scenarios so our employees are fully prepared to serve the customer," Hyndman says. – Monta Monaco Hernon

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