Monday, 16 February 1998
STAR TECH 4D
By Mitch Gitman
THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
If you were to compile a list of the most influential Internet individuals in Tucson, you wouldn’t want to leave out a fast-talking young Israeli guy.
Ehud Gavron (ay’-hood gav’-ron) is senior partner of ACES Research, a Tucson company that specializes in high-grade, business-quality digital Internet service.
ACES’ customers include StarNet (the Internet service of The Arizona Daily Star), Madden Publications, JewelWay International, radio stations KLPX and KFMA, the Pima Association of Governments, even Atlantic Records in New York City.
Gavron said ACES gains and maintains customers with its reliability – “100 percent up-time, no excuses, no crashes, no near misses” – and by offering responsive service that national Internet backbone providers don’t.
Matthew Grossman, StarNet network operations project leader, explained why StarNet at its inception in 1995 went with Aces rather than a national, or Tier 1, provider: “1) Tucson Newspapers didn’t have the expertise to program and maintain a router, and 2) dealing with a Tier 1 provider is a (hassle).
“Whenever something breaks, a single call to Ehud gets it fixed. If we bought bandwidth directly from Sprint, MCI, etc., we would have to call the appropriate trouble center, wait on hold for 10 to 30 minutes, give them a specific circuit ID number, open a trouble ticket, then follow up as needed whenever something broke,” Grossman said.
Roger Post of the Web site design firm Interzone agreed that ACES has stepped in to serve a market, in Tucson, that “has otherwise been underserved by Tier 1 backbone providers and companies offering equivalent levels of connectivity.”
And both Grossman and Post point out a key difference between ACES and your typical Internet service provider (ISP): It doesn’t do dial-up service, “which is a big headache for a lot of other ISPs (high maintenance, great competition, low margin, no or short-term contracts),” in Post’s opinion.
Gavron, 31, spent his childhood in Rishon Lezion, Israel. His father’s work, as a nuclear physicist, brought the family to America in 1980.
He founded ACES Research in 1991 and began providing Internet service in 1993. He’s been in demand ever since.
His network consulting fees alone are $200 an hour in Tucson, $400 for the rest of the United States. “I just kept raising prices until I had spare time,” he said with a laugh, then quickly noted, in all seriousness, that ACES’ Internet connectivity fees have risen only 10 percent cumulatively over the past three years.
Okay, so Gavron has wired himself a successful niche. But what’s really fascinating about this fellow is the provocative opinions he has about the Internet, and about Internet access in Tucson. Here are some excerpts from a recent interview at ACES’ office in a mini-mall-style office plaza on Speedway.
On Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), the variety of high-speed Internet service that U S West plans to introduce to Tucson in the spring under the brand name MegaBit Services:
“DSL is not the harbinger of great joy that everyone thinks it is.”
Few locations in Tucson will be able to take advantage of DSL at all because of the poor quality of the copper wiring of U S West’s local phone lines.
Even then, many of the customers who will be able to get DSL won’t be able to get its speeds exceeding 1 megabit per second. “The MegaBit is a misleading cliché name because most of their services are not going to be megabit,” he said.
In fact, U S West has already been providing DSL through its standard 1.536-megabit T-1 service. For five years, the phone company has used HDSL (high-speed DSL) technology to deliver its expensive T-1 service.
“I think it’s great that they’re lowering prices.” But U S West’s announced MegaBits pricing is only promotional, and “they’ll make (that) go away anytime the product takes off,” he said.
On cable modems:
“Cable modems are a fictitious mythology that never really will exist.” At least not in Tucson.
“The cable plant that was put in Tucson is a bunch of coaxial cable and splitters,” without the super-fast fiber optics needed between neighborhoods for high-speed Internet service. And he doubts that TCI of Tucson has any intention in the foreseeable future to do the costly upgrade to its network to make it cable modem-capable.
On America Online:
“I think with AOL what you’re seeing is its death throes. But AOL is such a huge beast that its death throes are going to take a long, long time. AOL has reached its peak and they are declining.”
Trouble is, AOL has the reputation as the Internet service for newbies, he said. “It’s like when I watch the Indy 500, if there’s an R next to a driver’s name, I say to myself, `Oh, he’s a rookie. He’s dangerous.’ Just like when I see an Internet address that ends with @aol.com, I go, `Oh, Internet rookie. Watch out.’ ”
Once those AOL users get used to AOL’s bad service (his opinion, of course), they move on. And “as the world becomes more Internet-savvy, which is happening every year, less and less people are going to be likely to join AOL.”
Gavron later qualifies that he doesn’t think America Online will die, just “you’re going to see a large decline in the number of people joining AOL.”
On competition between Internet providers:
“I think that the movement is for rollups and acquisitions into eventual ownerships by the telecommunications giants.”
Gavron predicts that in two years, there will be half the Internet providers there are now in town. “Probably within five years, I would be surprised if all Internet providers aren’t either large newspapers or telecommunications companies.”
Obviously, Gavron would talk a favorable outlook for his own newspaper customer. But for local ISPs in general having to compete against nationals, long-term success is “probably very tough.”
While “the local ISPs can bring something to the table that the national ISPs cannot,” there is a natural trend for consumers to go to nationals.
On U S West:
“U S West is one of the best regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs). They want the U S West company to be the first one offering new technology. . . .
“The problem is people downgrade U S West, but they live in an area where they’re not familiar with the other six RBOCs.” (Upon further query, Gavron allows that Bell Atlantic is the one better baby Bell out there.)
Of course, keep in mind that ACES does business with U S West, as Gavron goes on: “One of our successes has largely come from playing hand-in-hand with U S West, instead of fighting them.”
Then again, he said, “For local phone lines, U S West is horrible. They have a bad track record. The (Arizona) Corporation Commission has come down on them so many times. They have billing errors, they have delayed installations, their subscriber loops (the same ones that won’t provide DSL) are poor and provide line noise for people.
“You hear these radio ads that say, `Life’s better here.’ I don’t know where they’re living.”
On ACES’ being a desirable acquisition target:
“We have no immediate plans to sell the business,” although “there have been some interested parties.”
“Everything has its price, but we’re looking for the ability to maintain the level of quality that we’ve built. . . . If some company wants to do business with us, they’ll locate to Tucson and they’ll continue to treat our customers the way we do.
“And they’ll give me a huge golden parachute.”