Atlanta -- Digital services and cable modems are getting
all of the buzz at the National Show here, but cable operators that have entered telephony
are urging their colleagues to follow suit as quickly as possible.
While some operators may prefer to wait until equipment
costs go down, IP-telephony (Internet protocol) technology is finalized, and cable-phone
service has been proven to be financially viable, so waiting to enter the market comes
with a price, said panelists at a session on cable phones here.
"The RBOCs' [regional Bell operating
companies'] ability to get into long distance is a consideration," said David
Woodrow, senior vice president of broadband services for Cox Communications Inc.
"Once they have the ability to package long distance with their other services,
they'll be going after the same high-end customers that we target."
Cox has already started offering commercial-telephone
services to customers in Southern California and Omaha, Neb., and it is in beta-testing in
at least one undisclosed location, Woodrow said. He added that Cox is configuring all of
its clusters so that it can be a facilities-based provider of phone and data services.
"We'll take anybody, obviously," Woodrow
said of the company's plans to sign up new telephone subscribers. "We've
got an obligation to do that."
But Woodrow added that the company will more actively
market to "high-end" customers that typically spend more on long distance.
"We know where they are," he said.
Cable operators must convince both Wall Street and their
subscribers that their intentions are sincere when it comes to entering the telephone and
high-speed data businesses.
"There have been a lot of naysayers along the
way," Woodrow admitted. One concern is whether the services are just a test, or a
real business for cable operators. "The answer for us is, it's a business,"
Jack Armitage, MediaOne's vice president of telephony
and high-speed data, said the operator expects to pass 200,000 homes in its Atlanta-area
cluster with hybrid fiber-coaxial digital phone and MediaOne Express high-speed-data
service by the end of the year. MediaOne offers a single bill to Atlanta cable customers
who also choose phone or high-speed-data services.
MediaOne's monthly telephone packages start at $24.95
for a fully featured single telephone line, rising to $42.95 for a fully featured two-line
"Within the next month, in Atlanta, we'll be
trying package incentives to encourage people to buy two or all three of our
services," Armitage said.
Mark Coblitz, vice president of strategic planning for
Comcast Corp., said the same networks that the company is creating for phone and data
services will be able to deliver other consumer services, such as home-security