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Internet service pulling the plug

"A California company's financial failure will cost several hundred Bainbridge Island customers the high-speed Internet connections they get through their television cable.ISP Channel has notified customers that it will no longer guarantee service after Dec. 1, and will shut down operations entirely by the end of the year.While ISP offered services through Northland Cable Television's equipment, it is not related to that company, according to Northland business manager Marit Saltrones.We entered into a third-party contract with ISP to provide the bandwidth, Saltrones said. It was their product that we took orders for.The advantage of the system, Saltrones said, is that a television cable has much greater capacity than a telephone line.We dedicated one television channel to the service, and had enough capacity that we could have had three times as many customers, she said.The ISP service connected the company's cable to a customer's computer modem. Despite the use of the television cable, ISP did not turn televisions into Internet monitors, but rather, used standard video monitors. The greater bandwidth available through the television cable made the service much faster than standard telephone-cable service, she said.But that, in part, was ISP's downfall.It's a very expensive service to offer, Saltrones said. Because it is so fast, usage is higher. That means the provider needs many more telephone lines than a normal internet provider.She said that a number of Internet service providers have looked at the situation, but have apparently concluded that they cannot operate the service profitably. Saltrones said that while ISP was probably not charging a high enough rate for its services, it faced other problems.The cable industry has been consolidating, she said, and one of the buyers is AT&T. It has its own proprietary Internet service, so when it buys a cable company, that company is no longer a potential market for ISP.Also the financial markets are changing. A year ago, any Internet company could raise money. Today, it's not so easy.Saltrones said there is little likelihood at this point that the service will be assumed by anyone else.Bob Malecki, president of island-based Northwest Network Services, agreed with Saltrones' assessment.It's not a very cost-effective system, he said. You would have to buy a lot of equipment from ISP, and there's the cost of the phone lines to operate it.Malecki did say that his Internet provider, BainbridgeNet, hopes to lure a number of soon-to-be-former ISP Channel customers, and would offer an introductory rate. But BainbridgeNet would provide its standard fare - high-speed DSL service within a three-mile radius of downtown Winslow, and standard telephone-link service outside that area.While declining to specify how many subscribers the ISP Channel had, Saltrones said high-capacity Internet service was a desirable product.Our penetration was better than most other cable companies, she said. The demand is here. "

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