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Charter introduces Internet on cable TV.

Hal Krisbergh, 51, is the cable guy who could easily become billionaire cyberspace mogul Bill Gates' worst nightmare.

Krisbergh and a team of companies are launching a direct challenge to Gates, chairman of Microsoft, with their own plan to use cable television as the nation's primary access to the Internet.

Krisbergh's Bensalem, Pa., firm, WorldGate Communications and his partners hope to leapfrog past Gates' overwhelming presence on the U.S. information superhighway. Their plan is to pipe the Internet through the cable box and onto the television Screens of the masses.

Only about 40 percent of American households have personal computers and less than half of these are using on-line services - the major route now to the Internet. In contrast, 65 percent of households have cable TV.

WorldGate and the cable industry have put together a strategy that Krisbergh calls "the ultimate mass market Internet solution." And the St. Louis area is one of the first locales where the "ultimate solution" for Internet access is being initiated, via Charter Communications.

Internet access through Worldgate technology, via cable TV, is already available to a select number of homes in a patchwork of St. Louis County towns that fan out from the intersection of Interstate 270 and Interstate 44. The homes are located in the St. Louis I service sector of Charter Communications.

The St. Louis I sector includes Crestwood, Des Peres, Fenton, Green Park, Grantwood Village, Mackenzie, Marlborough and Sunset Hills. Officials with Charter said they hope to have the entire St. Louis I sector readied for Internet via cable by October.

Customers in Charter's St. Louis II, St. Louis III and St. Louis West sectors will see Internet capability for their cable televisions later in 1998 and into 1999. The St. Louis II sector includes Glendale, Kirkwood, Rock Hill, Oakland, Shrewsbury, Warson Woods and Webster Groves.

St. Louis III sector includes Black Jack, Hazelwood, Florissant and North St. Louis County. The St. Louis West sector includes Ballwin, Chesterfield, Manchester, Town & Country, Clarkson Valley, Creve Coeur and Wildwood.

Charter is rolling out the new cable service in its St. Louis market gradually because its crews have to adjust equipment. Signals that work very well for TV transmission have to be fine-tuned in order to transmit Internet signals, according to Charter technical personnel.

Cable/Internet costs

"We will be letting residents know through the mail when their areas have the Internet service available," said E.J. Glaser, a regional vice president in sales and marketing for Charter. "There will be a $4.95 per month, three-month introductory offer for residents who want to see what it's all about. There may be a hook-up fee and small equipment fee as well."

The service will cost $15.95 per month after the introductory special. There will also be a hook-up fee and, in some cases, a minor monthly equipment fee. Internet outlets for additional televisions will be $12.95 monthly. Charges are on top of regular cable television service fees.

Glaser, who lives in Des Peres, said his home was one of more than 150 test households that have been wired for the service since fall 1997. He described the Internet use on TV as a family affair.

"It really gives you access to a lot of information quickly," noted Glaser. "There are links to the websites of every TV channel. Our family was watching a "Dateline NBC" show about sea lions with cameras strapped to their backs for documenting the actions of whales underwater.

"We clicked onto the "Dateline NBC" website and were able to see the latest pictures taken that morning using the sea lions," explained Glaser. "When you're watching sports, like a baseball game, you can click onto a site that gives everything you want to know about the player who's batting."

Glaser and Omar Olano, business development manager for Charter Communications, said Charter is committed to giving every school in their service area access to Internet via cable television.

"We recently did a demonstration at Oakville High School where U.S. Congressman Gephardt gave a speech," said Olano, a Fenton resident. "Gephardt was impressed at how fast we got to his website. Then the kids called up all this information on Mark McGwire. Gephardt said the kids knew what was important.

"Gephardt talked about how excited he was as a kid when his family bought a used set of encyclopedias," continued Olano. "He was excited that now kids can call up anything in the encyclopedia within seconds on their living room television screen."

The new system will incorporate software that can keep children from accessing sites which are obscene or pornographic. Parents also will be able to program out specific sites or television shows as well.

Upsides & downsides

The advantages of WorldGate's technology/or Internet on cable TV include much faster transmission of images and graphics because of high speed modems that dwarf those used in home computers.

Graphics, which might take more than a minute to fully appear on a home computer screen, will be on a television screen in seconds. While resolution won't be as sharp as on home computer screens, company officials say customers won't notice because users will be eight or more feet away from their TVs, instead of the 18 inches from a computer terminal.

Other advantages: no computer, monitor or modem to buy; no obsolescence of equipment since technical upgrades will be done by the company; no tie-up of telephone lines; and the opportunity to move from television programs to websites.

There are two major drawbacks for traditional Internet users: no chance to download information to computer memory for future use; no option to print out Internet site information on a home computer printer.

WorldGate is looking into developing these capabilities for the cable TV system. Also, system users can videotape their browsing on the Internet using a VCR hook-up with the television.

While Charter and WorldGate are first unveiling the new system in St. Louis, there are plans to roll out the system in Los Angeles and Atlanta later this year.
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Title Annotation:Charter Communications
Author:Corrigan, Don
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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