View Full Version : More than just a cable guy

07-27-2006, 12:13 AM
Today's consumers want a houseful of connectivity, not just TV service. Who's gonna hook them up?

When Kevin Iantorno began his job as a cable technician seven years ago, he didn't know a thing about computers. And he didn't have to.

Today, he deftly manipulates home computers and networks to install high-speed Internet and digital telephone service.

The role of the cable guy has changed - drastically.

Cable, phone and satellite companies are rolling out more advanced products that are often interconnected through one set-top box or modem. That dizzying array of offerings, including digital phone service, high-definition TV with surround sound and high-speed Internet, means technicians like Iantorno have to embrace new technologies and tools to get the job done.

"When I started this job, I didn't even know how to move the mouse," said Iantorno, 34, a Comcast technician. "Now, I'm dealing with people's home networks. I can take a computer apart and put it back together again."

Iantorno now uses a company-issued cellphone to bring up a customer's account information, enter serial numbers and activate services.

In 2000, fewer than 5 percent of American households had broadband service. Today, more than 40 percent do, according to the Pew Internet and American Life report.

Comcast spokeswoman Cindy Parsons said the Philadelphia- based company has hired more technicians in Colorado in the past year and two more trainers. As new products and services are introduced, technicians repeatedly return for more training, she said.

"We have increased our training budget, classes and staff in response to our current growth," Parsons said.

Comcast has 4,000 employees to serve its 700,000 Colorado customers, and roughly one- third of those workers are technicians. Entry-level technician jobs pay $13 an hour, and workers can earn more as they become better trained.

"It would be pretty tough to just come out of high school and get one of those jobs. You're going to need to get some technical education in electronics," said Alan Babcock, vice president and chief learning officer for Jones/NCTI, a Centennial- based distance learning school that trains 15,000 to 16,000 technicians around the world each year.

Jones/NCTI offers college certificates in broadband technical management, broadband digital management and broadband telephony technology. In addition, more technicians are returning to school to earn associate degrees in electronics, computer programming and networking, Babcock said.

"The real challenge is that the traditional TV stuff hasn't gone away," he said. "In addition to everything a technician needed to know five to 10 years ago, there's more stuff on top of that. Inside the home is tremendously more complex today. There are infinite types of equipment that need to work together."

Denver-based Qwest, the dominant local-phone provider in Colorado, has 535 technicians in the Denver-Boulder area.

In addition to the three weeks of training for basic phone installation, Qwest techs must complete another two weeks for high-speed Internet, or digital subscriber line, installation and repair. They must also spend time riding along with a more experienced tech before doing an Internet install alone.

But before attending those advanced classes, workers have to pass a "prequalification" test of basic computer skills.

"I can't get my guys trained fast enough," said Rick Mabry, Qwest director of network operations.

A former Army enlistee and diesel mechanic, Iantorno started his career in the cable industry when he began working for Tele-Communications Inc. in 1999. Through industry consolidations, he has had a few employers, first AT&T Broadband, which acquired TCI, and now Comcast.

Last week, Iantorno headed out to Stapleton to install the company's "triple play" - digital cable TV, high-speed Internet and digital phone service.

After locating all of the cable and phone lines coming into Chris Flores' home, Iantorno began rewiring the home to display digital cable in several rooms and wiring the phone and PC lines to a new type of modem, called an embedded multimedia terminal adapter.

Then he had to check the Internet settings on the computer and walk the family through setting up an e-mail account.

The most delicate part of the job was hooking up the Flores' new high-definition plasma TV, mounted over the fireplace.

"Football in high-definition. Come on, September," said Flores, flopping down on the couch after Iantorno finished installing a new HD/DVR set-top box and handed him the remote.

"Usually customers are nice, but occasionally I have a customer that will tell me how to do my job," Iantorno said. "People are always excited about the cable guy."

Reigster at SatelliteGuys