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DirecTV Customers Flee Digital Oblivion
ISP's vie for attention, Speakeasy pioneers the 'hot swap'
by Karl Bode 05:05PM Thursday Dec 19 2002
As DirecTV begins the ninety day process of closing down their broadband operations, more than 170,000 customers are scurrying to find new providers. As seen after the collapse of @Home, Rhythms, Northpoint and assorted others, surviving providers are engaged in trench warfare to obtain these vagabond customers, who face a crash course in selecting a new broadband service provider.

The news came somewhat out of the blue last Friday that DirecTV broadband would be exiting the DSL business stage left. Placing the blame on a "dramatic change in the capital markets and the significant shift in the telecom operating environment", Hughes apparently decided that DIRECTV Broadband could no longer stand as an independent business.

Hundreds of disgruntled employees and tens of thousands of confused subscribers were forced to find a new broadband home. Many of them came to our forums looking for answers. According to a user created poll, opinions are split, with many fleeing to cable, and others finding a new home with the incumbent telcos.

Not everyone is pleased with that last option, particularly those who have the most to lose from the continued success of the baby bells. According to Dane Jasper, President of both the California ISP Association and DSL provider, the DirecTV collapse is a direct result of the competitive landscape and the telco's strangle hold on the market. Jasper argues that subscribers considering life with the ILEC's would be better served looking elsewhere for service.

"End-users can help by not supporting the cut-rate offerings from incumbent LEC affiliated ISPs - they're well below the wholesale loop cost for other ISPs, and have a chilling effect on competition. It's a bit like avoiding real fur or not eating veal - by not being co-opted by low introductory price offers from SBC/Yahoo and Verizon ISP, you can help save independent ISPs. Shop elsewhere - they've already got 80% of the market, and if we don't change the purchasing, we'll end up with a gray, ad-laden, PPPoE dynamic IP world."

Brought on by the repeated collapse of providers, ISP's are getting more technically proficient at taking on the flood of broadband refuges with little digital bloodshed. According to Speakeasy CEO Mike Apgar, if you're a DirectTV customer considering a switch to Speakeasy, you're better off keeping your DirecTV DSL connection live and performing a "hot swap" via his company's DirectSwitch program than canceling your line and starting a new order.

"Speakeasy's DirectSwitch program utilizes a process we have refined with our underlying loop carrier," notes Apgar. "Called 'HotSwap', this process involves a simple move of the customer's active line-shared DSL connection in the central office from one DSLAM to another. Because the customer can keep their current provider connection right up until the physical move of the line, "HotSwap" results in very little down-time."

But what if DirecTV customers decide to cancel their account first?

"If subscribers' lines actually go out of service before the switch we will still typically be able to get them running within 10-14 days," says Apgar, who also touted Speakeasy's pioneering of the concept. "We are the only ISP we know of which has gone into production and fully operationalized this process."

When asked his opinion of the ILEC's impact on competition, Apgar wasn't impressed, questioning the quality of incumbent broadband providers. "Speakeasy considers ILEC DSL and Cable for that matter a solution appropriate only for those who do not have a need for excellent customer service and a high-performance and reliable connection."

"To the degree smaller independent providers try to compete with the ILEC's at the same price we believe they degrade their competitive positioning, value proposition and underlying economic viability. This is easily evidenced in the unfortunate collapse of many smaller providers that greatly inconvenience so many people." While Speakeasy's prices are slightly higher, Apgar believes the company's liberal policies on running servers and operating Wi-Fi gear give them a significant advantage.

Speakeasy of course doesn't operate in a vacuum, and has some significant competition. Dozens of other providers are trying their very best to get noticed by the hordes of abandoned DirecTV DSL customers. The quick installation and relative cost savings of cable broadband is appealing to many, while others are giving smaller DSL providers such as Cyberonic a try. Others are being tempted by Megapath, who has launched their own "Emergency Transition" campaign.

And while the CLECS may not think much of the ILEC's operational procedures, customer support, or service quality, BellSouth for one has been very busy trying to make the migration to their service as comfortable as possible, offering clear migration guidance in our forums. DirecTV customers in our SBC forum are likewise finding their questions answered promptly.

So how much time do users really have to make up their mind? Originally subscribers thought they'd have 90 days to find new service, but in the company's December 16 e-mail to subscribers (also posted on their website), they indicate the company's DSL network could head for digital oblivion as soon as January 16, making this holiday a stressful one for users looking to secure their broadband fix.

DirecTV has been quiet since Tuesday, and the company's website, which promised to update subscribers on migration plans and other issues has remained unchanged. At the moment there are more questions than answers, and as evidenced by growing hostility in our forums, there's an absolute lack of Christmas spirit in the air. Attempts to contact DirecTV representatives for a statement for this article went unanswered by press time.

DirecTV users looking for a place to begin should start by joining the discussions in our DirecTV forum, or by utilizing our ISP Search.

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