We were all over this one.
Bert wrote about the bind Charter was put in by relying on Alcatel again, “A Los Angeles job  is the one where Alcatel is failing them badly and Charter is looking to us, to bail them out.”
Bert added, “This job will involve an Ethernet workaround that Alex Kelly is chasing down. In [one executive’s] words, ‘we're on our knees begging for someone to bail us out on this thing and you guys are the only people we're talking to. Everyone around here is very excited about your product and if you make this thing work, you're going to be big heroes.’”
As a sweetener for Bert and Cerent, the customer said, Cerent will have “trouble keeping up with their demand if things go well,” to which Bert replied, “Bring it on.”
Internally, Bert said that while earlier Cerent opportunities to displace Alcatel in Charter were “hot,” such as one particular Georgia project, “this one's on fire.”
One week later, after much fancy footwork, Alcatel kept their Los Angeles business, but Cerent got the Georgia order. As Bert summarized, on March 12, 1999, “Alcatel initially wanted an additional $80,000 to come and fix their problems with their install. That's when we showed up with an alternative solution. We have a proposal in front of Charter to replace the [faulty] Alcatel setup with the ‘454’ and an interim solution using ECI for Ethernet until June, [when Cerent’s integrated Ethernet modules were to become available].”
Bert continued, “Subsequent to our initial meeting, Charter went back to Alcatel and told them to come rip out their $400,000 worth of equipment. Since then , Alcatel has softened and, in Charter's words, ‘Come back on their knees.’”
“Charter loved our proposal” for the replacement LA system, Bert recalls. “Many kudos to Alex and Rob on burning the midnight oil and cranking this out on short notice. Charter told me today that they are very impressed with our proposal and level of commitment on this project. I was told that our response on this is going to give us tremendous mileage at Charter – whether we get the LA purchase order or not.”
And the best part of all, “I am positive Charter won't be ordering Alcatel again and am confident we are now their vendor of choice.”
Bert’s confidence was not misplaced. Charter awarded Cisco much business and at the outset of the company’s 2003 fiscal year, some four years later, Charter continued to buy from Cerent-Cisco instead of Alcatel. Charter became Cisco’s third largest optical transport customer that year, behind AT&T and QWEST.
Part of this later success was the work that my (R.K. Koslowsky’s) marketing team put into developing product bundles. Thomas Barnett led that charge and along with Leonard Luna helped Charter Communications and its associated Charter Business Networks organization purchase fourteen ONS 15216/15454 Bundle “Starter Kits.” Specifically, eleven 15216 DWDMSTART-3 Kits and three 15216 DWDMSTART-2 Kits were ordered, which translated into $2.7M in bundle sales plus an additional $3M in ONS 15454 pull-thru sales. Charter and other cable companies continued to show great interest in these bundles to grow their optical transport networks with ‘454’ and its DWDM adjuncts.
Moral of the story: When a competitor flounders, move in and outperform them. It can lead to a long-term business relationship.
 Bert Soto was employed in Alcatel sales, prior to joining Cerent and working for Jeff Santos.
 The project involved a critical optical transport link between Alhambra and Monterey Park in LA County. The Ethernet interfaces were very important since a few months earlier, Charter and EarthLink had joined forces to deliver high-speed Internet access through cable modems to Charter's customers in Los Angeles and Riverside, California. Charter’s Internet offering was marketed as “Charter Pipeline.” By 2003, a PC Magazine survey, ranked the Charter Pipeline service as follows: “Charter outranks AOL for Broadband on the survey, though its only advantages over AOL are on the key question of connection reliability and on ‘likelihood to recommend.’”
 Often, companies used Cerent early on its startup existence as a threat to the incumbent suppliers that they would be replaced. While this appears to have been done for the referenced LA job, Alcatel’s complacency and poor treatment of Charter led to significant business for Cerent, and then Cisco over the years.