Dialing for Content

Phil Harvey
The Philter
Phil Harvey, US Bureau Chief
12/30/2008



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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