Charter Markets Way to 500K Phone Subs

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On Feb. 7, a mother of four teen-agers in the St. Louis area became the 500,000th customer to sign up for phone service from Charter Communications.

Her subscription capped a 14-month period during which the cable company more than doubled the number of homes that have access to phone services.

At the beginning of 2006, the company had enabled telephony services to systems passing 2.9 million homes. By the end of that year, 6.8 million Charter homes were passed by phone service. All but three of Charter’s “key market” areas have enabled phone. Company officials declined to identify those areas, nor detail when phone service will be deployed there, citing competitive pressures.

The growth has surged with availability: According to Ted Schremp, senior vice president and general manager of telephone services for the company, Charter opened 2006 with only 121,500 phone customers.

The company began launching telephone on a limited basis in 2002, mostly through the acquisition of phone customers that had been served by a St. Louis-area AT&T Broadband system acquired by the company. Charter didn’t really “put muscle” behind the product until late 2005 to early 2006, Schremp said.

Now, video subscribers in Charter’s systems get semi-weekly mailers, touting the service and features such as call waiting, call forwarding and anonymous call rejection.

Charter prices telephony at $44.99 per month as a stand-alone. Even though it’s not actively marketing the service by itself, it still managed to attract 6% of its customers on a telephone-only basis. Schremp said that segment may be satellite-dish homes that are now buying phone from Charter.

“We don’t actively market stand-alone, but if that’s where they want to start, we’ll take it,” he added.

Bundling is the main message in consumer mailers: Subscribers who take multiple products get $5 per month off phone bills for each of the other products (digital cable, high-speed Internet) they buy from Charter. Discounts for a two-product customer bring the price of phone down to $29.99 per month.