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Comcast to offer Internet phone service

Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts announces the company's plans to offer Internet-based phone service in 20 markets this year. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts announces the company's plans to offer Internet-based phone service in 20 markets this year. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff and wire reports

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable television company, plans to challenge local phone companies by offering Internet-based phone service in 20 markets this year, company officials said.

A company spokesman said it’s uncertain when Comcast’s roughly 97,000 Spokane-area customers will be able to sign up for the service. Only about 15 million Comcast homes are supposed to have the option by the end of 2005, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The Philadelphia-based company plans to offer its Digital Voice technology to all of its markets by 2006. Company officials said they expect to be serving about 20 percent of phone customers in those markets within five years.

“Our initial focus is on getting it right and successfully introducing the service,” Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts said. “We’ve already worked out the kinks, and are going to take a very patient approach.”

The service will cost $39.95 a month for existing Comcast broadband customers for unlimited local and domestic long-distance calls. It also includes caller ID, voice mail and call waiting. It will cost more for those not already Comcast subscribers.

Rian J. Wren, the general manager of Comcast Voice Services, said he expects Digital Voice to make a profit within two years.

Comcast is the last of the major cable companies to announce plans for voice over cable. Two competitors, Time Warner Inc. and Cox Communications Inc., have already begun offering the service. Plus, numerous other VOIP — voice over Internet protocol — companies have emerged and taken away customers from traditional telephone providers.

Comcast’s Wren acknowledged that his company will have significant competition, but noted that Comcast is offering some features that its competitors aren’t. For example, Verizon and Vonage don’t promise that the phone service will work during a power failure, but Comcast provides a 16-hour battery backup.

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