Layer3 vows to fix cable TV, not replace it

High-quality video, internet shows and good customer service will supposedly stop you from cutting the cord.

The prevailing wisdom among the internet literati is that old-school TV is on the way out. When even the incumbents are catering to cord-cutters, surely internet-only video will be the way of the future, isn't it? Don't tell that to Layer3 TV. It's revealing plans for an upcoming cable TV service that, theoretically, tackles some of the biggest problems you run into with conventional providers like Comcast or Time Warner Cable. For a start, Layer3 wants to avoid the overly compressed video that you typically endure -- it's using efficient HEVC (H.265) encoding and a fiber optic backbone to keep bandwidth use in check and maintain the highest quality possible. You're also promised very precise service appointment windows (within one hour) and set-top box installation so simple that you'll eventually get to do it yourself.

However, the biggest deal may be Layer3's willingness to embrace the internet and other modern technology rather than fight it. It'll include internet services like Amazon Prime and Netflix among regular TV options, and browsing for movies will show you those services in addition to any broadcasts. Also, the days of constantly flipping through channels might be over: the channel guide uses a blend of demographics, time and your preferences to prioritize channels. If you regularly tune into sports, for instance, you may see that channel first.

The service should arrive in Chicago and a few other cities in the next few months, with prices ranging between $80 to $150 depending on the number of TVs you need to hook up. Importantly, Layer3 suggests that it'll keep its set-tops relatively current, rather than make you wait several years.

Whether or not Layer3 succeeds is another matter. Although it's eliminating many of the headaches of cable and satellite TV, it's not changing the basic business model -- cord-cutting happens precisely because people don't want to pay $80-plus per month for hundreds of channels they don't watch. Also, Layer3 TV co-creator Dave Fellows (formerly of Comcast) ironically created one of the business strategies that might do the company in: the triple play bundle. Rivals frequently give you an incentive to subscribe to multiple services, and jumping ship isn't trivial even if you can replace all of those services in one shot. Layer3 will have to both convince you that cable TV is worth saving and show that you're not better off sticking with familiar names.