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High-Tech Revolution Hits Home

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Two weeks ago, the cable guy hooked Miles Scull up to the future.

From one cable that pierces the back wall of his town house, he can watch 200 channels of digital-quality TV; check stocks through his 24-hour, high-speed Internet access; and talk over a digital phone line so clear that his mother in Arkansas sounds as if she's sitting on his couch.

"I feel like I'm a car in the fast lane while I used to be walking," says the elementary school teacher and father of two. "This is a quantum leap in speed, clarity, and definition."

Five miles of cactus-lined boulevard away, Steve Farquhar repeats virtually the same superlatives as he demonstrates a phone company's version of the same, three-in-one package. "There really is no comparison to what came before," he says.

What makes the two hookups important is that consumers here have a distinct choice in who will provide them with this new "voice-video-data" service. In a clash of telecommunications titans that pits a phone company against a cable firm, Phoenix residents will be the first big case study for how America will ultimately adapt to this new technology.

"This is the great convergence of markets and media that everyone has been predicting since the Telecommunications Act of 1995," says Boyd Peterson, a telecommunications industry analyst for the Yankee Group in Boston.

"The expectation was freewheeling competition, new technologies that would transform the American home and workplace, and the promise of lower telephone and cable rates," Mr. Peterson says. "It took a little longer, but suddenly, here it is."

The story, Peterson and others say, is important, partly because of the companies involved. One is a cable operator (Cox Communications) moving into telephone turf, the other a phone company (US West) moving into cable.

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