Comcast telephone service draws interest

Since launching voice over cable telephone service in December, about 6,000 Spokane customers of Comcast Corp. have signed up, said Len Rozek, the company’s senior vice president, based in Bothell.

Rozek said the company can realistically expect to get about 36,000 Spokane-area customers for its telephone service.

All told, Philadelphia-based Comcast has about 98,000 Spokane-area customers.

Company COO Steve Burke in an interview Thursday he believes voice over cable has vast business potential as more customers become comfortable with switching from their traditional phone lines.

“We see it becoming a major business for us,” he said.

The company also hopes to gain new Spokane and Washington state subscribers through a “triple play” package being launched in June. That bundle of telephone, Internet and digital cable will cost $99 a month — far less than customers would pay for the three services if purchased separately, Burke said.

The triple play package will be part of a national rollout by Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator.

The $99 package rate includes a digital set-top box and some access to Comcast’s video on demand catalog. But it won’t include a digital video recorder (DVR).

Other telecommunications companies offer similar bundled packages. Qwest Communications gives phone customers DSL Internet service along with a regular phone plan, plus the option of adding DirecTV satellite video.

Burke said he thinks Comcast’s bundled plan is simpler for customers to manage and understand than those offered by the phone companies.

“We are the only company in Washington right now that can offer all three of those services over our own network,” he said.

Comcast has tested the triple play in Indianapolis and in suburbs outside Boston. Burke said response has been so strong that Comcast has had trouble handling the increased demand.

“We’ll be adding 150 technical workers in Washington state” to be ready once triple play is launched, Burke added. About seven of those will be in Spokane.

The company expects to announce a cell phone service for Comcast subscribers later this year, said Burke.

The company is working out terms of that deal with Sprint Nextel; pricing hasn’t yet been determined, Comcast officials said.

One advantage in bundling cell phones and cable networks will be wider access to content, said Burke. For instance, mobile phone users could dial up video content on handsets through their Comcast accounts. In other cases, customers could grab cell phone messages when logging onto their Comcast Internet accounts.

Rozek and Burke said voice over cable is the company’s fastest growth segment based on percentage. In absolute numbers, the fastest growth is among Comcast’s high speed Internet customers, said Rozek. In Spokane, Comcast has about 35,000 cable modem subscribers, said Rozek. That number is growing about 25 percent per year, he said.

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