Competitor Seren Innovations Inc. should launch a bundled
service offering in Concord, Calif., within the next month, now that the state Public
Utilities Commission has approved its local-phone-service tariff application.
The company -- a subsidiary of St. Cloud, Minn.-based
utility Northern States Power Co. -- already has cable-franchise approval from the
upper-middle-class community in the San Francisco Bay area.
"The headend is up and we're ready to go," Seren
spokeswoman Janey Palmer said. The service will begin by testing with
"friendlies," including households and businesses, within the next few weeks.
Pricing has been finalized, but not published, for a bundle
of services including local telephone, data services and cable. An application for Seren
to be able to deliver long-distance telephone service is still pending before the state
"We're testing the signal now," Palmer added.
The community is already served by AT&T Broadband &
Internet Services, which will launch telephony "eventually," in addition to the
video products already available in the community.
Where AT&T Broadband offers video and telephony, it
will market the services in a bundle at a 10 percent discount, noted Andrew Johnson,
spokesman for the operator's Western division. Indeed, the January billing cycle for the
first time reflected such discounts in the AT&T Broadband systems where both services
"This is what the '96 [Telecommunications] Act is all
about -- bringing choice to consumers," he said of the prospect of competition by
Seren. "We're not taking them lightly."
The local telephony incumbent is Pacific Bell, the largest
telephone company in the state, which is now a part of SBC Communications Inc.
Seren will market its services under the name
Palmer conceded that the upstart is at a disadvantage both
from a brand-recognition and advertising standpoint. AT&T Broadband -- which has
acquired virtually all of the cable systems in the San Francisco Bay area -- and PacBell
can buy powerful regional media, such as broadcast TV and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Seren has taken out small ads in the local Contra Costa Times. More of its
marketing will be on a one-to-one basis.
But the competitor was heartened: Dozens of potential
customers took the time to clip out a form in the paper and send it in to achieve
placement on Seren's VIP contact list, Palmer said. Potential customers are also
registering on the division's Web site.
Once the Northern California operation gets going, Seren is
poised to move into neighboring Walnut Creek, Danville, Pleasant Hill and unincorporated
areas of Contra Costa County where it has already been awarded cable franchises.
Palmer said the company anticipates approaching another six
or seven East Bay communities in six months to one year.