Comcast wants to be phone provider Cable operator to ask permission to enter Md. market

November 08, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Comcast Corp. will ask the state Public Service Commission next week for permission to enter the local and long-distance telephone service business in Maryland, the company announced yesterday.

The Philadelphia-based cable television company, which serves most of Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties, had made no secret that it eventually planned to expand into the phone business, where it will compete head-to-head with Bell Atlantic Corp. and other phone companies.

However, telephone carriers have professed to be unimpressed with the technical capabilities cable companies bring to the table.

"You've got to have a network that's up most of the time," Bell Atlantic Vice Chairman James G. Cullen said Wednesday. "Would you want to make a 911 call on a cable network?"

Comcast said the filing in Maryland is simply a way to keep its options open, rather than get into a situation where it decides to enter the phone business and then has to wait out the possibly lengthy regulatory approval process.

The company does not know when it might actually begin competing for phone customers.

"As far as we're concerned, it's a routine filing," Comcast area Vice President Jaye Gamble said. "It's not like we're cocked and ready to go. It's just a filing to protect our future opportunities."

The new federal telecommunications law passed this year allows new competitors to enter the local phone business, which Bell operating companies have monopolized in most of the country since they were created in the 1984 breakup of AT&T Corp.

The law also offers cable companies a way around technical problems: They can buy local phone service wholesale from traditional monopoly carriers like Bell Atlantic and resell it to consumers, and they can buy wholesale long-distance service from carriers like AT&T. Or they can lease certain elements of local Bell company networks to fill in the gaps in their own technical prowess while building some of their own facilities.

Finally, they can build their own phone networks from scratch, as most newcomers plan to do sooner or later.

Gamble said Comcast's phone service will probably be based on a mix of its own networks and services it buys from other carriers.

"I'm sure we will review many technological solutions," he said.

He said Comcast has not decided whether it will offer package discounts to customers who buy cable service and phone service from Comcast.

Such discounts, which telecommunication marketing professionals call "bundling" strategies, are sweeping the industry as deregulation allows big companies to enter industries from which they had previously been barred.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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