Co-Op, Sprint Talk Resale

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The National Cable Television Cooperative held “exploratory discussions” with the cellular-telephony operations of Sprint Nextel, according to Scott Abbott, executive vice president of the programming- and hardware-buying collective.

The talks, which began in the past year, are one way that the NCTC — which represents 1,200 independent cable operators in 50 states — said at last week’s The Independent Show that it is trying to find a way to help small and midsized cable operators offer mobile-phone service to their customers.

If a resale deal were to be reached with Sprint, Abbott said, the two sides would likely focus on markets where members had better footholds with households for their services than Sprint currently does in its wireless communications. The wholesale prices of Sprint’s services would probably slide down as more members agreed to resell its wireless services.

But Abbott cautioned that he had not had a talk with Sprint executives for about two months. A deal “is not imminently forthcoming” he told NCTC members.

A resale deal between independent operators and Sprint would be wholly different from the joint venture Sprint already has with four large cable operators: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications.

Abbott noted that some independents had inquired about becoming part of that venture; but that is not a possibility until the big operators have gotten further along with their rollouts. He added that the NCTC could also explore whether to act on behalf of its members in coming up with a unified agreement with the Pivot partnership.

In the meantime, he said, independents can look at signing up resale deals on their own, but he cautioned them about branding. It could be confusing in some markets if a cable operator competing with Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV services were reselling Verizon Wireless services, for instance.

Other alternatives: signing deals with “mobile virtual-network operators,” which supply wireless-communications services working off of another party’s network infrastructure; and owning and operating their own wireless-communication networks.

That last option could be too complex and costly for many operators, Abbott indicated.

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