Friday, August 20, 2004

Running home to Mama for VoIP

New technology is making for some strange telecom bed fellows.

Once a pillar of stability, you now need a live RSS feed to keep up with AT&T's business models these days.

Consider these moves: AT&T was once THE Phone Company; then became a long distance company; tried to become a cable company and a wireless company; then reversed its course, sold off the cable businesses to ComCast and its cellular business to Cingular; then decided to get into the local phone business; then . . . Well, you get the picture, no?

Well, AT&T has made its current bet on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology -- that is, carrying phone calls over the Internet. The company has a good bit of experience with data networks, which was really at the heart of its lurch into cable.

With the Bell companies apparently succeeding at getting clearance from the FCC and the courts to raise access rates that they can charge companies like AT&T to access their networks, AT&T has begun to withdraw from the local access market -- at least via phone lines.

The news out of the former Ma Bell is that it has struck deals with cable companies to bring its VoIP expertise to the table to help those cable companies develop and deploy telephony offerings.

Cox Communications is one of five cable companies with which AT&T has struck deals.

The point, here, is that while LUS has succeeded in creating a temporary alliance between BellSouth and Cox, it is just that -- temporary. The cable companies' move into telephony has the regional bell operating companies (RBOCs) like BellSouth squarely in the cross-hairs. It will be interesting to see how this alliance handles the strains of the fierce competition between its members.

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