Friday, October 29, 2004

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

Smartmoney runs an article that raises real questions about whether the Bells can hold onto their core business while investing heavily in wireless and fiber. The implication for Lafayette lies in the fact that the Bells are focusing on expanding in those areas where their investment yields the greatest return. But post-LUS Lafayette cannot be seen as a profit center relative to most locales. Residents of Lafayette should be very cautious about believing that any Bell, BellSouth included, will make a business decision to compete just to compete; what they are seeking is maximum profit.

Here's the gist of the article:
Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), the nation's largest phone company, said Thursday it would consider selling off as much as one-third of its nearly 54 million local phone lines as it reported third-quarter financial results that showed strong growth in less traditional areas like wireless and Internet services.
That's astonishing news even if it never comes to pass. Giving up lines voluntary is like giving up your bread and butter; it just doesn't happen. But what is apparent is that Verizon is willing to consider giving up their crusty, reliable "bread" for the richer fat of their "butter." It isn't that the lower yield (mostly rural) 1/3 of their base isn't profitable. No. It is that the wireless and fiber-feed "sheep" yield more lucrative and profitable "butter." I'm sure that they'd like to keep it all but Verizion in particular has invested heavily in both wireless and fiber (Verizon is the only teleco with real fiber to the home) and they have to finance that in some way. Confidence in the telecom's has been falling as many analyists show concern that they are having their lines taken by wireless phones and more recently by cabelcos like Cox (who, not incidentally, leads the cableco pack in this regard and is introducing telephony in Lafayette). Consequently, investment monies get more expensive or simply become unavailable. They will need to pay for some of this themselves and be willing to demonstrate their own confidence in the new technologies.

Here's the nut: they don't have the money to do it all. They just don't. Not even the very largest and most progressive, which Verizon is. They will not be able to invest in any but the most profitable tier and will even consider losing huge chunks of their legacy to bridge the gap.

Places like Lafayette were never at the top of that list. And we will be even less likely to raise to that level when we have a fiber optic network of our own that both takes real market share and establishes a cap on the price of the most lucrative services.

Don't expect BellSouth to be able to carry through with any promises it makes in the next two weeks. Reality is closing in on them as it is on all the Bells. They just don't have the resources to do it all and will, inevitably, focus on what yields the greatest return.

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