Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cable and Wireless

I once worked for the big British telecom with that name; our running joke was that we were Cable and Wireless and we didn't do either of those things. US cable companies, however, want to do wireless, just as telecoms want to do television. The whole merging of all of these companies into similar providers of a broad range of services leaves me thinking... "Why?"

Consider this story on cable companies entering the wireless market by reselling what's already available from wireless providers:

Branded cell phone service is the latest attempt by cable operators to compete with — and swipe customers from — traditional phone companies that themselves are invading cable's turf by offering TV service. Each side wants all of the consumer's communications business and each has plans to make the technologies complement each other.

Cox is one of four top cable companies hoping to attract more customers like Poteet as they roll out mobile phone service this year with Sprint Nextel Corp. in New York. The cell service is powered entirely by Sprint, but the cable operators do their own marketing and take over the customer service.

The cable operators will handle the customer service. That's a scary thought; can you find anyone in the United States who'll tell you about the great service their cable company provides?

And what are the benefits of this bundling for consumers?

To lure consumers, cable is not only touting the convenience of paying your communications costs on one bill and cable e-mail access, but also free calls to the cable landline phone, streaming TV shows to the handset and later, remote DVR programming and other perks.

This is pretty thin stuff. And, as the article notes, by buying through the cable company instead of the actual wireless provider, customers lose options:

But it may be an uphill battle to get consumers to think of cable companies as cell phone providers, in part because it still doesn't have the depth of offerings available from other wireless carriers. Cable also has to overcome a reputation for higher annual price hikes than the phone companies.

Sam Gonzales, a 28-year-old marketing manager from Gaithersburg, Md., isn't attracted to cable cell phones because of the slim pickings.

"The only partnership they have is with Sprint," he said. "It was only four handsets they were going to offer. It limits you to a lot of things."

Cable and telecom companies are some of the most-loathed businesses in the country. We love to hate them because they are virtual monopolies, their bills are filled with strange taxes and extra fees, and their customer service is generally mediocre. It's hard to imagine that the thrill of getting one bill instead of two will convince that many people that this is a good idea.

I don't really want to hear from Time Warner about a mobile phone until they figure out how to keep my cable internet connection stable for more than 24 hours at a time, or stop charging me a couple of dollars a month for my "free" cable modem.

This all does make sense from the providers' point of view: they want create stickier relationships with customers by signing them up for more services. I have a feeling, though, that being more stuck with the cable company is the last thing many people want.

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

Hey there cable and phone companies - Here's a wild and wacky idea. Maybe more of us would "stick" if you delivered what you said you would in the first place! (and didn't try to wring every last cent out of us.)

What's "funny" is that the more big companies spend on marketing and internal customer service training, the worse they seem to treat their customers. (I'd say their strategy is a bizarre combination of hubris and panic.)