Sprint, cable TV alliance scales down strategy Partnership adopts new name for venture

February 23, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

An alliance of Sprint Corp. and three large cable TV companies chose a new name yesterday to go with its new, more modest strategy.

Originally known as the Sprint Telecommunications Venture, the partnership now will be known by a name that is rapidly becoming familiar in Baltimore and Washington -- Sprint Spectrum LP.

Sprint Spectrum is the brand name under which the alliance is marketing the nation's first "personal communications services" (PCS) network. PCS, a form of digital wireless telephone, made its debut in this region in November when Bethesda-based American Personal Communications, an affiliate of the venture, turned on its network.

Mark Bonavia, a spokesman for Sprint Corp., said one reason the name was chosen is the performance of PCS sales since Sprint Spectrum's November rollout. "It's been huge," he said.

But the use of the wireless brand as the corporate name also reflects a shift in strategy away from the all-encompassing "one-stop-shopping" telecommunications concept announced by Sprint, Comcast Corp., Tele-Communications Inc. and Cox Cable Communications when they formed the alliance in late 1994.

At the time, the partners boasted that they would be able to offer local telephone service, long distance, wireless phones, Internet access and cable TV service all as part of a package.

Early this month, the partners announced they had jettisoned plans to jointly offer local telephone service nationwide over the cable partners' networks. Instead, Sprint will be free to negotiate separate agreements with each of its cable partners or to buy network capacity at wholesale prices from local telephone companies.

The more open arrangement has led to speculation that the happy partnership has given way to bickering over management and money issues. But spokesmen for both Sprint and the cable companies deny any serious discord.

"Their enthusiasm, their vision, has not diminished one iota," said Mr. Bonavia.

Mr. Bonavia said Sprint's use of telephone companies' network capacity could turn out to be an interim strategy before an eventual migration onto cable networks once they are adapted for telephone service.

Joe Woz, a spokesman for Comcast in Philadelphia, said the cable partners remain committed to the "one-stop" idea.

He said that the Baltimore area, where Comcast's three systems are undergoing a $100 million upgrade, is one market that could see a relatively early use of the cable network for telephone service.

Daniel Briere, senior consultant at Tele-Choice Inc. in Verona, N.J., said the changes in the alliance reflect changes in the industry.

"Basically the model they put together 16 months ago no longer applies," he said.

Mr. Briere said that in part the strategy shift reflects changes incorporated in the new Tele-Communications Act of 1996, which will require local telephone companies to provide bulk "resale" of network capacity.

Another factor Mr. Briere cited was slower-than-expected progress in adapting cable networks for telephone service.

"The cable technology did not change as fast as the regulatory scene did," he said.

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