TCI Brand Will Remain for Now


The celebrated AT&T Corp. brand isn't about to
immediately dislodge the longtime Tele-Communications Inc. corporate moniker at cable
systems nationwide.

In fact, sources last week indicated that the MSO's
new parent is developing a checklist of minimum standards that the 650 TCI cable systems
that it recently acquired will have to meet before sporting the jealously guarded AT&T

Presumably, the checklist will incorporate guidelines
governing such compliance issues as customer service and minimum technical standards.

"It sounds like, 'The quality goes in before the
name goes on,'" according to one industry expert, who added that AT&T has
prohibited its new cable systems from using the world's most famous brand name
"until they've earned it."

A committee of division-level managers is drafting the
checklist. Details will not be disseminated to individual systems for 30 to 60 days.

"At that point, they would go through the process to
see if they comply," one source said. "There's no information as to what
happens to systems that don't pass the certification process, but they would
certainly not be allowed to use the AT&T name."

Officials at AT&T and former TCI officials took pains
last week to try to dispel the notion that the company's cable operations will be
under the microscope.

"This is not a matter of bringing TCI up to AT&T
standards," AT&T Broadband & Internet Services spokesman Mark Siegel said.
"It's creating standards for a whole new company."

LaRae Marsik, a former TCI executive who is now under the
AT&T umbrella, insisted that renaming the MSO's systems under the AT&T brand
will happen without any "strings attached."

"TCI and AT&T are working closely together on a
brand-transition plan that will begin shortly as TCI's name is replaced with
AT&T's," Marsik said. The exact name under which the systems will operate
has not been announced, but it will certainly contain the AT&T brand name.

The transition, Marsik said, will take place over several
months, during which TCI will continue pursuing aggressive customer-service,
product-quality and performance initiatives, while working with AT&T to establish
guidelines for "what is essentially a new business."

However, those guidelines should not be construed as
"prerequisite for the name change," she added.

Nevertheless, talk of a system-certification process did
not come as a surprise to one former TCI staffer, who said the possibility had been

"It's no secret that AT&T is very particular
about its brand name," the company insider said. "The fact is that our customer
service hasn't been up to snuff in some systems -- surprise, surprise. And AT&T
probably doesn't want to be [immediately] associated with those systems -- surprise,

One problem potentially lying in the weeds is plant safety.

Jonathan Kramer, head of Kramer.Firm, a
technical-consulting firm that advises municipal governments, said most cable systems are
technically up to par these days, but they are behind the curve when it comes to meeting
safety codes.

Calling it an industrywide issue, Kramer said he routinely
cites systems for violations involving plant that's been pulled down by fiber
overlays, wrapped around telephone or electrical wires, or not properly grounded or

"This is not just TCI: It's a cross-company
issue," Kramer said. "But if AT&T is setting up a body of standards that
will be the jump for using the name, that's going to be a real issue for a number of
TCI systems to meet."