Last words on the Manchester trial

I received the following email from Nicholas Davies, one of the 'Manchester triallists'. You can take it as the last word on the ending of Nynex/CWC's cable modem trial; it was written before the spectacular U-turn at the end of July 1998.

I was one of the Manchester triallists at the meeting with CWC on 7 May 1998.

Our intention for the meeting was to keep the trial open. However, CWC were arguing that it was costing them £250,000 a year to operate. As such two elected triallists agreed to meet Kevin Price, Mark Frost and Stephanie Mathesan to discuss keeping the cable modem trial open but with limited resources (no news server, mail server, and limited support) - we just needed point-to-point IP connectivity.

Some of the triallists would have been happy to run their own web servers for the others, thus reducing maintenance costs for CWC. However, it was apparent from the very second we sat down that CWC had already decided to close the trial.

What they wanted to do was discuss closure options and they offered another month's extension for home users and a three month extension for business users and schools. The additional extension for businesses and schools was mainly because they had come under fire after sending out an email signalling termination of the trial with little or no time for businesses or schools to make other arrangements.

In return they would offer all triallists a free three month subscription to Cable and Wireless Internet.

We tried to look at additional ways of funding the trial by further reducing costs - for instance removing the need to use the National Fault Center - but CWC said that their decision to terminate the trial was solely on financial grounds.

They mentioned that the trial was only a technical trial (something they never mentioned before - indeed we have an email from a CWC employee stating that they were looking to roll out an operational service in Spring 1998) and that the technical trial was complete and that a commercial trial was now needed. However they said that CWC had taken too much on by way of the merger and that they needed to refocus their sights on the consumer market.

By this they meant the coming of digital TV - a lot of resources would need to be ploughed into this first. Indeed, unless we had organised our fax and letter campaign the concept of cable modems would have been completely dead within CWC.

As such they said that the new cable modem technology would need to come online after the move to digital networks and that the South of England would be upgraded first. Hence that area would be the first to move onto a commercial trial around January 1999 with Manchester coming back online around July-August 1999.

The problem with the trial was the merger - cable modems were a great idea when Nynex initiated them, but the merger with CWC meant that responsibility was passed from department to department who never actually did anything and, in the end, the trial was just seen as a drain on resources. CWC freely admitted that the trial ended due to their mismanagement: this is perhaps the saddest thing about the whole affair.
Text by Alastair Scott

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