Hotline Targets Subs When They Move

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After more than a year of study and field trial, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and Cable Television Laboratories Inc. are paving a way for subscribers leaving one community to get connected with cable in another.

The joint effort, known as Cable Movers Hotline, was officially announced last week during the CTAM Summit in Seattle. But CTAM's venture with CableLabs — believed to be the cable industry's first wide undertaking of this nature — actually began in a phased deployment earlier this year.

Immediately, about half of all U.S. cable subscribers have the phone hotline available to them; the other half will be accommodated by next March.

For years, MSOs have conducted internal programs or worked with third parties that tracked customers relocating within systems — like Hamilton Direct's mail program with Charter Communications Inc. in Los Angeles.

Until now, however, no phone process existed that allowed one operator — say Comcast Corp. — to hand a subscriber who moves from Philadelphia to St. Louis off to Charter.

"Between MSOs was the big opportunity," said Joe Rooney, Cox Communications Inc.'s senior vice president of marketing. "The problem was, how do you herd the cats?"

Comcast, Charter, Cox, Time Warner Cable, BrightHouse Networks LLC, Cablevision Systems Corp., Insight Communications Co., Adelphia Communications Corp. and Mediacom Communications Corp. will all participate in Cable Movers Hotline.

Any MSO belonging to CableLabs, or that uses Go2Broadband — the information clearinghouse portion of the organization's Web site, where the public can find out which cable operators offer advanced services — can align with Cable Movers Hotline.

"We're in discussions with some MSOs about coming in, and we expect to have news from them soon," said Seth Morrison, CTAM's senior vice president of marketing.

Morrison will join CableLabs President Richard Green next month at the technology consortium's summer conference in Colorado for a presentation, aimed at winning support from small and midsized MSOs.

When a subscriber who is moving phones in a disconnect request, the customer service representative on the line takes down the information, processes the transaction and offers the Hotline as an option to get reconnected to cable elsewhere, for free.

The customer is transferred to an interactive voice response unit, while the CSR enters the ZIP code of the new location into Go2Broadband's database. If the new location — confirmed by zip code — is served by the same operator, the IVR automatically transfers the call to the new location and from there, the subscriber orders an installation from a sales rep at the other cable system.

In cases where the transfer involves another MSO, the subscriber's call is sent to a third-party call center, which asks the caller for the street address in their new city. The center, based in Pensacola, Fla. and managed by West Corp., will contact Go2Broadband, and through nine-digit ZIP codes, come up with the new operator and transfer the call there.

"In a small number of cases where the street of a new home is served by two cable companies, the caller will ask the customer which company they want to be transferred to," Morrison explained. "That shows there's no bias in the process."

At a Summit briefing, CTAM and CableLabs officials said that in the deployment period so far, about 57% of subscribers elected to be transferred to their new operator through Hotline. Morrison later added that the system-to-system ZIP code match under the same MSO works out about 80% of the time.

CableLabs is picking up the lion's share of the Hotline budget through Go2Broadband, including call-center operations in Florida and the IVR, which West also provided, while CTAM handles some administrative expenses. Participating operators will likely shell out some money on their end for incremental phone costs and special CSR training, according to Morrison.

Cable Movers Hotline originated from a feasibility study conducted in 2002 on how to best operate an industry-wide referral service, while preventing customers who move from signing up for DBS in their new locales.

Matt Stump contributed to this story.

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