Cox Communications on Tuesday unveiled the first commercially available cable modem service in Southern California, offering high-speed Internet access to about 25,000 of the company's subscribers in southern Orange County.
The service will cost more than twice as much as standard Internet access already offered by telephone companies and Internet service providers. But Cox executives promise that their subscribers will be able to download images, text and sound from the Internet at least 50 times faster than users of traditional modems.
Mark Stucky, a spokesman for Cox, said the company expects the service to catch on gradually and that Cox hopes to have a few hundred cable modem subscribers sign up over the next few months.
But the company's long-term ambitions are much greater. Like other cable companies that have introduced modem service elsewhere in the country, including Northern California, Cox is hoping to gain a foothold in the rapidly growing market for Internet access, e-mail and other electronic communications.
Other cable companies in Southern California, including Continental Cablevision, are considering offering the service in the next few years.
Analysts said there could be a large market for high-speed Internet access at premium prices but that it is likely to develop slowly.
"The initial market will be savvy Internet users who want more bandwidth," said Amar Senan, an analyst at Volpe, Welty & Co. in San Francisco.
Few cable networks around the country are equipped to offer high-speed Internet access alongside cable television service, Senan said. He added that there are also questions about the ability of cable television companies, which often get low marks for customer service, to handle the installation, billing and other administrative functions required.
Stucky said Cox has hired about eight installation specialists and that the company's customer service department has been trained to help subscribers with cable modem problems. He said the company's partner in its modem venture, Home Network of Mountain View, will also provide technical support.
The modem service will cost $45 a month to Cox cable TV subscribers, $55 a month to nonsubscribers. That includes the cost of the modem, which is manufactured by Motorola. There is also an installation fee that ranges from $100 to $175.