Monday, March 12, 2007

Cox: here, elsewehere, and elsewhen

Cox communications was at last Thursday's Fiber Forum where Karen Kleinpeter, Karmen Blanco and maybe 5 or 6 others were spotted busily taking notes and being very quiet. They caucused in the parking lot for a long time after the meeting, no doubt planning their next nefarious move--or at least trying to figure out how to offset the good publicity accruing to LUS without doing anything so gauche as actually taking their customers opinions seriously themselves.

Today we see featured in the local business section of the Advertiser an AP story about the cable companies plan to offer cell phone service--elsewhere and elsewhen. Nothing is actually being offered in our neck of the woods and it isn't clear when this might happen locally. This is a fairly old story, actually: the cable companies joined together back in 2005 to partner up with Sprint/Nextel in hopes that they could put together a "bundle" that included cellular service. Since their phone company rivals had already bought their way into a dominant position in the cellular arena (Verizon and AT&T are the dominant names in both cellular and telephone networks) they decided to put together a package of their own.

The story summarizes the current state of the partnership--one which is actually moving pretty slowly as things go in the fast-paced telecom world. All the cable companies appear to still be "testing" the bundle. Since the plan is for the cable companies, for example Cox, to provide not only billing, branding, and marketing, but the much more daunting task of support they seem to be taking it slow. My guess is that they want to make really sure that there is some payoff from going the full route of providing a fully cable-branded cellular service--and that they aren't certain yet.

So the local news here is actually pretty much nil. But it does highlight the importance of LUS' eventual wireless play and how it will be structured. In recent announcements (including those at the well-attended-by-Cox Fiber Forum meeting) LUS has said that a wireless data play is coming--either concurrent with the fiber build or soon thereafter. As Huval made clear a cellular play would depend upon partnering up with a major player and he says that no such negotiations have begun. I'd suspect that in LUS' case we'd see a simple partnership: no LUS-branded phones. Just a deal or deals to let one or more brands of dual mode wifi/cell phone latch onto the national network beyond our borders. (The carrier that agrees to that will have a big leg up in our market.) In the best of all possible worlds any carrier would allow local networks to cut that sort of deal and with municipal WiFi hitting many of the country's major cities the advantage to be had from cutting such deals may well become overwhelming.

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