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These changes have yielded many benefits, including a much broader array of telecommunications services, a more diversified and competitive market, and an environment in which new innovations move more quickly to the marketplace. But they have also led to decreased industry support for long-term telecommunications research and a general shift in research focus from the long term to the short term. As has been observed by many others, there has been an overall downturn in many areas of U.S. industry research.1 Along similar lines, a report released earlier this year by the National Academies concluded that the nation’s commitment to basic research in science and engineering needs to be sustained and strengthened
A good deal of organized, focused research and development work has enabled the evolution of cable as a telecommunications industry. In the late 1980s a group of cable company executives formed CableLabs, a nonprofit consortium of cable system operators, to pursue new cable telecommunications technologies, improve the business capabilities of cable operators, and help cable companies develop and take advantage of new technologies. For example, CableLabs was involved in the development and specification of cable modem technology (work initially funded by MCNS Holdings—composed of TCI, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Comcast), eventually administering the specifications and performing certification and qualification of products. In addition, the early 1990s saw CableLabs involved in developing fiber-optic trunking and work to develop fiber-optic regional rings to link individual municipal cable systems. This work drew on earlier, more fundamental telecommunications research, such as work on fiber-optic communications, that had been developed at such places as Bell Labs. CableLabs work cuts across the layers from device and equipment standards through applications.
CableLabs—while not doing fundamental research itself—continues to play other important roles for the cable industry, such as helping to facilitate specification development, providing testing facilities to ensure quality equipment, and generally serving as a clearinghouse for information on current and prospective technological advances. More recently, CableLabs has been involved in the development of high-definition television systems, VoIP packet networking, interoperable interface specifications for real-time multimedia, and standards to create a common platform for interactive services.
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