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Consumers to Have a New Way to Plug Into Computer Services

May 25, 1994

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Not many months from now, people will be able to plug the cable television line into the back of the family computer and get faster, cheaper access to a range of services.

Several companies are developing powerful devices that link personal computers to cable TV lines, called cable modems, to bring this about. They’re showing them off at the National Cable Television Association’s convention here.

The cable modems can move text, voice and pictures 1,000 times faster over cable TV lines than standard telephone modems, which people currently use to send and receive information from their personal computers over telephone lines, executives of companies developing the cable modems said Tuesday.

Those devices have more horsepower because cable television lines can carry more information than telephone lines do now. ″The cable pipe is fatter,″ said Avram Miller, vice president of corporate business development for Intel Corp., which is developing a cable modem with General Instrument Corp.

Digital Equipment Corp. also is developing a cable modem and Zenith Electronics Corp. has one completed.

Intel and Digital executives said they expect to have their cable modems in retail stores by next year. But Zenith executives said the company plans to sell its modems to cable systems, which would rent or sell them to consumers.

In general, the modems are expected to be priced at $500 and up, industry officials said.

The devices are attracting a lot of attention from on-line services such as CompuServe and Prodigy, retailers and cable companies, all of which see opportunities to sell more services to the public.

And, because information can be sent faster, service charges to consumers could be cheaper than they are now, said Jeff Miller, CompuServe’s director of research and development.

Intel’s and Digital’s modem should be capable of moving information at 10 megabits a second, or 10 million bits a second. ″That means a person could go into a data base, ask for a magazine-quality photo and get in on his computer screen in 10 seconds. That would take a half-hour now,″ said John Richardson, manager of Intel’s consumer software laboratory.

People who want to order a jacket from an on-line shopping service or call up stock quotes from a financial service wouldn’t have to dial into those services from their computers if they use a cable modem, executives said.

Instead, a person would go to his or her computer and call up the cable access menu, which would list a variety of options - news, shopping, Internet, Prodigy and so forth. The person would select one by clicking a mouse, Richardson said.

People developing the cable modems believe they will change the way people use their computers. About 24 million out of the 26 million U.S. households with computers also subscribe to cable television, CompuServe’s Miller said.

Digital’s Jim Albrycht said the modems are the first step to converting the PC into a device that people will use to watch television.

″The next generation of television will be the same as today’s PC except with a large screen for viewing. And, it will be in the living room as opposed to the family room,″ said Albrycht, a senior consultant for emerging network technologies.

However, several technical hurdles would have to be resolved before consumers can watch a television show on a computer, executives said.

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