The quick-serve industry, as its name suggests, is a business built on speed. Restaurants are constantly trying to shave seconds off everything from food preparation to drive-thru time. Analysts are always crunching the numbers to see where the process can get even a nanosecond faster, and managers train their employees to be as efficient as possible. But even with the fastest kitchen equipment and the speediest personnel, there could still be something keeping your restaurant in the slow lane.

“There are streets and then there’s the highway, and broadband is the highway,” says Sal Cinquegrani, a spokesperson for New Edge Networks, a broadband internet provider with 800 switches throughout the country.
The broadband to which he is referring is a high-speed internet connection that is quickly replacing traditional phone-line dial-up connections as the preferred way to access the web. Where dial-ups have to dial into a server every time a user gets online, broadband connections are always on and can relay more information at three times the speed.

“The speed difference is huge,” explains Cinquegrani. He says a quick-serve that uses a low-speed dial-up POS terminal to accept credit cards and check payments would typically need about 12 to 15 seconds for the transaction, which would involve dialing up an 800 number to send the information on the card to a payment processor and then on to a bank. By switching to broadband, however, that time can be cut down to two or three seconds.

“And two to three seconds versus twelve makes a big difference when you’ve got a line of customers waiting at the cash register,” he says.
The most basic application of broadband is communication between multiple locations. That’s why Sbarro CIO Rich Guariglia says his chain of Italian quick-serves decided to make the switch from dial-up.

“When you have 500 stores all across the U.S., you want to make sure you have good communication,” he says. “Each location needs to feel like it’s part of a corporation, not just an isolated store.”
Guariglia says with their old dial-up connection, Sbarro managers would often have to stay late after work to receive e-mail from other locations. Even through the day, he says, some of the larger files would clog up the line and take forever to download, wasting manager’s valuable time.

“They shouldn’t be sitting at the e-mail all day; they need to get in and get out,” he says. “Dial-up was so unreliable, so much work.
Broadband capabilities are also allowing quick-serves to use the internet in ways that were not possible with a dial-up connection. Used in conjunction with other software, this technology allows for things like real-time inventory, instant sales polling of multiple restaurant locations, automated time tracking of hourly workers, and much more.

One example is the system from Radiant Hospitality Systems, which allows owners or managers to keep track of reporting at multiple locations from any web browser. It can even help identify and prevent employee theft.
“We can zero in on a specific cash register at a specific time of day,” says Jon Rice, vice president of marketing for Chuck E. Cheese’s, a chain of more than 400 restaurants that uses with a broadband connection. “By pressing a key, we can track it down to an individual employee if need be. This is a reporting tool with tremendous functionality to accentuate the advantage of broadband.”
Broadband is also a surprisingly affordable technology, another incentive for quick-serves to make the switch from dial-up.

“It costs a lot less than people expect,” explains Cinquegrani. “People using dial-up probably have two or three phone lines—one for a fax, regular phone, and dedicated computer line. By converting to broadband, they can eliminate some of those lines. The cost proposition to a quick-serve is very simple: They can get three times the speed for about the same price as two dial-up lines.”
And broadband isn’t just for the huge chains with hundreds of locations. As the technology has grown, the price is going down to make it affordable for even the smallest chains.

“Broadband is essentially helping to level the competitive playing field for small chains,” Cinquegrani says. “As few as two or three locations can now link together and offer some of the same types of things as larger chains.”
One of those things is electronic gift cards. Previously, these valuable selling tools were impossible for chains with only a few locations to offer because the equipment needed to recognize them at multiple locations was out of a small chain’s price range. With broadband, however, that technology is within their reach.
“It can be the difference between being a viable competitor or losing out to the big guys,” Cinquegrani says.

Using the electronic gift cards also has the benefit of speeding up individual transactions, says Ken Pohl, senior product manager for Radiant Systems, Inc.
“Using [broadband] for credit cards is even faster than cash because you don’t have to worry about change,” he says.

In the end, an initial switch to broadband can bring two things to the quick-serve table: better, more detailed information and speed. But as the technology advances, the possibilities, too, will expand.
“What quick-serve restaurants are doing with broadband is limited only by the imagination,” Cinquegrani says.
“There are unlimited applications,” agrees Rice. “And as we get smarter, we’re going to find ways to utilize this technology to enhance the way we do business. As newer technology becomes available, restaurant companies like Chuck E. Cheese’s are going to use it to get a competitive advantage.”
So how long will it be before everybody is jumping on the broadband wagon? Cinquegrani says the rush has already begun.

“Quick-serves are clamoring for broadband connectivity more so than businesses in other industries,” he says. “But they’re still trying to adopt, and though it’s easy to migrate from dial-up to broadband, there’s still some uncertainty that delays the decision. People are soon going to realize that they want to do these things faster and more efficiently, though, and then take up is going to be very strong.”
Is it time to take your chain into the fast lane?

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NEW YORK (Associated Press) - Greg McKinniss lives on a farm in the rolling hills of Jackson County in Appalachian Ohio, hoping his daughters will soon be able to enlist high-speed Internet for help with school research projects.

In many rural areas, broadband services aren't available at all or come from a single provider. Verizon Communications Inc. provides coverage to Jackson County, but the service doesn't reach McKinniss' farm.

"I have called Verizon several times trying to get it," said McKinniss, a manager for Industrial Timber and Land Company. "They keep telling me to call back."

Calls to expand broadband service in the U.S. have been going out for years, but few states have succeeded in extending the technology to their remotest regions.

About 55 percent of Ohio residents have broadband service in their homes, with coverage higher in urban areas, according to Connect Ohio, a nonprofit group hired by the state to conduct the first comprehensive study of broadband service in Ohio. The group planned to release its results Friday.

Fewer than 36 percent of residents in Ohio's Appalachian counties, home to 1.5 million people scattered over the southern and eastern parts of the state, have broadband in their homes, the study said.

Technology has left behind rural Americans before. It took one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs to extend electricity to rural areas in the 1930s.

The problems of broadband deployment in rural areas are much the same as the forces that delayed the arrival of electricity:

_Isolation and rugged topography impedes the technology's reach.

_Potential customers don't know what they're missing, so they aren't demanding the service.

_Rural poverty means customers can't pay to have service extended to their home.

_Providers avoid rural areas because they can't get enough customers to justify their investment.

The lag in Ohio remains despite the availability of a prominent type of broadband, Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), going from virtually nonexistent in 14 Appalachian counties in 2002 to being in all but one country two years later.

During the same span, availability of cable broadband, the type provided by cable television companies, increased significantly as well.

"We're trying to move out of the ice age," said Jackson County Commissioner Ed Armstrong. "It's gaining in importance. They (businesses) know that they are dependent on being able to communicate with the globe."

Among the personal benefits, rural residents could have their children examined by a top-notch urban physician through a broadband connection. Students could take classes online and others could work from home in an era of ever higher fuel costs.

"These things are all quality of life related," said U.S. Rep. Zack Space, who represents an Appalachian district and formed a separate task force to study the issue. "This is every bit as important as was access to electricity several decades ago."

The telephone survey by Connect Ohio provides broadband companies with customer information they couldn't _ or wouldn't _ have been able to get on their own. The group hopes it will provide all interested parties with the knowledge of exactly where broadband coverage lags.

"I see this as very much like the rural electricity projects in the 1930s and 40s," said state Rep. Clyde Evans, who represents several Appalachian counties, including Jackson. "If government had not gotten involved we would have never had it out there. I think government has to get involved with the businesses that do this."

Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Administration, created in 1935, gave loans to communities and businesses that formed rural cooperatives that would build the necessary infrastructure.

The public-private cooperation overcame the same problem that private industry says it has encountered today in trying to spread broadband into rural areas _ there is no profit to be made.

"There are economic and technological challenges that all providers face when they are looking at expanding broadband service to more rural areas," said Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski. "In most places the market is working, but in places where broadband is not available and where it's not economically feasible for the private sector to serve, it helps to enter into partnerships."

DSL connections require customers to be no farther than 18,000 feet from a "switching" station. Fiber-optic cables involve laying thousands of miles of cable underground through rolling topography. And wireless signals are often relayed from mountain tops so they don't reach down into the valleys below.

Getting broadband through a satellite is an option, but is considerably more expensive.

Beyond the large-scale technological challenges, research by Connect Ohio has shed light on other obstacles.

In the survey, the lack of a computer was cited nine times more often than the cost of broadband service as the main barrier to Internet adoption. And of the 45 percent of individuals with no broadband service, half believe they do not need it.

Connect Ohio is just as much of a marketing strategy to promote broadband as it is a project to gather information from individual providers and present it as a business case to the industry as a whole.

"Sometimes the biggest barrier to broadband adoption is sort of the awareness of the value of broadband," said Brian Mefford, chief executive of Connected Nation, of which Connect Ohio is a subsidiary. "The onus is on us to make the case that it makes good sense to have broadband at home."

To address computer ownership, Connect Ohio is collecting donations from private industry to help with its No Child Left Offline initiative, which will provide computers to low-income children.

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"fiddling" on Broadband

TELSTRA has momentarily suspended its attack on the Labor Government over speculation the telco might be structurally separated, and refocused its ire on the federal Opposition, which it accuses of "fiddling" on broadband.
The riposte came yesterday after Coalition senators used their numbers to set up a select committee to probe the tender process for the federal Government's $4.7 billion broadband contract.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has slammed the establishment of the inquiry as "economic vandalism" and warned it could jeopardise the entire broadband project. Telstra joined Senator Conroy in his critique yesterday, comparing the Coalition senators to the Roman emperor Nero.

"We've been wanting to build a National Broadband Network since 2005," Telstra spokesman Jeremy Mitchell said yesterday.

"Now it could be sent to yet another committee - Australians don't want more processes, they want high-speed broadband, they are getting sick and tired of waiting.

"As (Telstra spokesman) Phil Burgess said earlier this week, 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned'. This looks more like fiddling, but the problem remains - it's investment, not fiddling that will build a high-speed broadband network for Australia." But Telstra's rivals and critics said they welcomed the Senate's investigation of the matter. Optus head of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai said delays in the bid process so far had been caused by Telstra, not the Government or Opposition.

"It's a bit rich that Telstra always claims delays and obstruction are due to everyone bar themselves," Mr Krishnapillai said.

"The reality is that the short-term delays are firstly due to Telstra's continued slowness in providing the network information to the government, and therefore to bid proponents like ourselves, so that we can actually finalise our bid. If you have nothing to hide then a Senate inquiry should pose no threat to Telstra."

David Forman from the Competitive Carriers Coalition said he supported the establishment of the inquiry "as long as it doesn't descend into party politics".

"Provided it doesn't interfere with the other processes that are going on, as a general principle, I don't have any objection to policy issues being discussed by the Senate," Mr Forman said. "Most of the time in recent years where the Senate has looked at these issue, it has made a positive, sensible contribution and it hasn't been overly political - the thing we don't want is for this to become any more party political, we don't need any more of that."

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