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Dialing for Content

Phil Harvey

1:10 PM -- Phone companies are lowering prices and adding features to their landline services and God bless 'em for finally figuring out that they're not the only game in town.

But while we all love a smaller phone bill (and one with fewer pages, fewer line items, fewer obscure fees, etc.), I can't help but notice that hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are disconnecting their landlines every quarter.

Qwest alone loses 146 home phone customers an hour. You have to get up early and work hard to chase off that many paying customers every sixty minutes.

While folks flee to cable VoIP, wireless phones, Vonage, and other options, I'm wondering: Where's the content?

For every communication service you use, content keeps you there, or at least gives you a reason to use the service more often. What content exists for my home phone? More conversations about politics with my kooky mother-in-law?

With your wireless phone, you can send text messages to vote for American Idol or get breaking news and traffic alerts sent to you. AT&T's U-verse TV and other telco video services have some exclusive VoD titles on their networks. Verizon has a games rental service that's affordable and robust enough to make you want to keep your DSL line.

But what can I exclusively get from my landline phone, besides crystal clear phone calls that don't require some nutcase in a jumpsuit and an army of hard-hatted weirdos to follow me around?

Is there something to do with gambling, sports, or school closings that my phone company could offer just to their customers, at no charge? Should calls from my trusty home phone to anyone else on the same network be free? Or are there enough old phone customers left to make such an offer interesting at all?

What will it take for a phone company to hold on to a billing relationship, even if it costs them some margin? Is it better for phone companies to have a customer paying $10 a month for a home phone line -- or is it better to lose them, then try to win them back, then try to get enough marketing material in their face to convince them to take a newer service at a loss-leader price?

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

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12/5/2012 | 4:15:01 PM
re: Dialing for Content
To elaborate on my #3.

When I moved from about 30 miles away from my original location, here in what was BellSouth land, I was told to disconnect my dsl modem and take it with me and all would be ready at my new residence in a few days. That was true and all seemed to be well.

Then one day about 3 months later my dsl no longer worked. I thought ah things happen I will see if it is ok tomorrow - it wasn't. After more than 3 hours of being transferred and dropped repeatedly from "phone BellSouth" to "dsl BellSouth" that keep blaming each other and tossing me over the fence, I found out that "dsl BellSouth" could not figure out how to bill me and instead of calling my number they qualified me on (that had voicemail, and there was no dry loop available at the time so I had to have a POTS line) or talking to "phone BellSouth" their solution was to disconnect my service.

Once BellSouth figured this out their resolution was not to reconnect my line, but that I must request a new dsl service and pay all the associated fees again.

I decided to go with a small local dsl provider.
Mark Sebastyn
Mark Sebastyn
12/5/2012 | 3:24:27 PM
re: Dialing for Content
The nice thing about a hardline is it is tough to spoof. When you dial out the phose company knows where that copper pair physically goes.

There must be opportunities in location based security.

Also, the phone is the social network of the 20th century. They totally blew the opportunity to map that out for you.

The thing is, regardless of what you and I and others dream up, these companies probably can't execute it.
12/5/2012 | 3:24:26 PM
re: Dialing for Content
You're probably right. But it is odd that they wouldn't TRY something like having me call from my home phone to get a free VoD title sent to my DVR.

Not a huge deal, but something that'd make me (1) remember my phoneline and (2) use other services because they created a teeny bit of value.

Or the phone companies could just continue to be lame and stupid and lose thousands of paying customers.

12/5/2012 | 3:24:26 PM
re: Dialing for Content

It is the reason the phone companies will not succeed in content per se. They can offer broad services that are viable for almost everyone. They have a great deal of problems offering specialized, high value services to smaller offerings.

Let me ask you the question this way. IF they are losing to VoIP offerings (Vonage and Cable as examples) primarily on price, why don't they lower the service price? It is not like they have to do any investment.

12/5/2012 | 3:24:25 PM
re: Dialing for Content
So they provided a good quality service, but they:

1) didn't support it properly
2) took it for granted
3) convinced you it wasn't valuable

And somehow we are to believe that this behavior will change with regards to the carrier's new services?

Are there any telco guys out there that can provide some balance to the discussion?
12/5/2012 | 3:24:25 PM
re: Dialing for Content
from the article - Should calls from my trusty home phone to anyone else on the same network be free?

I have always wondered how telco Xs wireless side business can do this, but not the wired side. The same tandems switches are being used to crossconnect the trunks.

I rid myself of my AT&T home line a few months ago. Reasons are
1) telemarketers
2) paying to have my number not listed in a phonebook -other than the "Mob" or blackmail this is the only occurance I have know of where you pay somebody NOT to do something on a month to month basis.
3) I made AT&T my dsl provider again (dry loop now) - and I wanted to make it simple for them (another long story there about dsl side of telco vs pots)
4) Due to item #1 I stopped answering my home phone and instructed friends/family to use my wireless number.
5) My AT&T wireless plan covers everything I need (call times included in plan are suffice) and want (blasted unmatched Iphone - why did Verizon turn you down?!).
6) Cramming/Scamming whatever you want to call it - I tried taking features and services off of my line and just having a bare minimum POTS line, but the services would mysterously reappear after a few months.
12/5/2012 | 3:24:25 PM
re: Dialing for Content
Right, whether the answer is content or lower prices, the overall impression I get is that the phone companies aren't doing enough to hang on to their phone customers.

And it's odd given how aggressively they want to push consumers into taking their other services. Quite often, these consumers are fresh from disconnecting and ending a years-long billing relationship with the same carrier that's trying to make them "a new customer" and offer them special discounts.

Billing and customer management appear to be Oprah-sized holes in the carrier gameplan.

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