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Cable Operators

Market Spot Check: Comparing the Come Ons

3/13/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

With cable operators and telephone companies going head to head across America with the same services, consumers are faced with a dizzying array of specially priced package deals.

In an effort to understand exactly how the competitors stack up against each other, Multichannel News examined the pricing plans of competing providers in four different markets where the rivalry is particularly intense.

The exercise in price shopping uncovered a few revelations. For example, the best bargain in modern-day telecommunications might just be Cablevision System Corp.'s "Triple Play" package in Long Island, N.Y. On the Internet, SureWest Communications and RCN Corp. do a far better job than other cable and phone companies of making bundled savings easily discernible to customers.

In Phoenix, a residential phone line from Cox Communications costs $1.25 a month less if you're a cable customer. And if you buy unlimited long-distance service from BellSouth Corp., you'll get a big break on satellite TV and digital subscriber line.

Needless to say, the competing players all have several different packages in an effort to give consumers just what they're looking for. Rather than showcasing them all, we've picked out three different types of packages: a relatively expensive and fully loaded service bundle; a middle-range combination of products; and a less-expensive bundle of fewer products. Together, they illustrate the breadth of pricing and packaging strategy that surrounds the "triple play," or in some cases, "quadruple-play" world of residential telecommunications.

Sacramento, Calif.

Comcast Corp.

High end: $140.90/month for top-of-the-line “Digital Platinum” video package (including five premium multiplexes), plus high-speed Internet at 4 Mbps/384 kbps.

Medium range: $116.90 for “Digital Silver” package (including one premium multiplex), plus high-speed Internet.

Lower end: $87.95 for “Standard Cable” (no digital or premium channels), plus high-speed Internet.

SBC Communications Inc.

Bundle brand: “SBC Connections.”

Tag line: “Bundle local, long-distance, Internet and wireless.”

High end: $203.88/month for a four-product bundle including phone service with calling features, plus unlimited nationwide long-distance; Cingular “GSM Nation” family wireless phone package; high-speed (1.5 Mbps/384 kbps) digital subscriber line Internet service and Dish Network “America’s Everything Pak,” including four premium multiplexes. Advertised monthly savings: $5/month.

Medium range: $136.89 for three-product bundle, including phone service with calling features plus unlimited nationwide long-distance; 1.5 Mbps/384 kbps DSL; and Dish Network “America’s Top 120 Value Pak,” including two premium multiplexes. Advertised monthly savings: none. (The sole bundle advantage is described as: “Single billing available!”)

Lower end: $64.90 for two-product bundle, including phone service with calling features plus $8/month, 200-minute long-distance; and 1.5Mbps/384 Kbps DSL.

SureWest Communications

Bundle brand: “InfinitAccess.”

Tag line: “When all you really want is…everything.”

High end: $174.51/month for three-product bundle, including feature-rich phone package with nationwide long distance at three cents per minute; high-speed Internet at up to 10 Mbps downstream; and top-of-line digital television, including all major premium-service multiplexes. Advertised monthly savings: $19.75.

Medium range: $108.46/month for two-product bundle, including high-speed Internet at up to 10 Mbps, plus 185-channel digital-television service featuring one premium multiplex. Advertised monthly savings: $7.58.

Lower end: $98.90 for two-product bundle of phone package plus calling features, plus digital television with one premium multiplex. Advertised monthly savings: $5.16.

Queens and Long Island, N.Y.

Cablevision Systems Corp.

Bundle brand: “Optimum.”

High-end: $150.42/month for two-product bundle of Family Cable expanded basic service, plus “iO Gold” digital-cable service including five premium multiplexes, and Optimum Online 4 Mbps/1 Mbps Internet service. Advertised monthly savings: $5.

Middle range: $103.37/month for three-product bundle of Family Cable, plus iO digital cable tier without premium services; Optimum Online Internet; and Optimum Voice service with unlimited long-distance calling, plus calling features. Advertised monthly savings: $21.

Low end: $89.85/month for three-product (“Triple Play”) bundle of “iO” digital cable service without premium multiplexes; Optimum Online high-speed Internet; and Optimum Voice phone service. Advertised monthly savings: $41. Notes: The catch is that only new customers can get the $89.95/month Triple Play deal, and the prices rise after 12 months. Mathematical irony: It’s more expensive for some current customers to get a two-product bundle of digital-cable, plus high-speed Internet service than it is for new customers to get the three-product bundle.

RCN Corp.

Bundle brands: “Power Bundles” and “Essentials Bundles.”

Tag line: “Bring home the bundle.”

High end: $164/month for three-product bundle of top-of-line digital-cable service including four premium multiplexes; phone service with unlimited local, regional and long-distance calling, plus phone features, and 10 Mbps Internet service (upstream data rate not published). Advertised monthly savings: $40.

Middle range: $98/month for three-product bundle of expanded basic-cable service; local phone service; and 10 Mbps Internet service. Advertised monthly savings: $14.45.

Low end: $86/month for two-product bundle of digital cable service with one premium multiplex, plus 7 Mbps Internet service. Advertised monthly savings: $20.25

Verizon Communications Inc.

Bundle brand: Verizon Freedom Packages.

Tag line: “Bundle up and save.”

High-end: $215.92/month for four-product bundle of Verizon Freedom Unlimited phone service, including several calling features plus unlimited nationwide long-distance; Verizon “America’s Choice” 900-minute wireless plan; Verizon Online DSL at 1.5 Mbps/128 kbps; and DirecTV “Total Choice Premier” video package including local TV channels plus five premium multiplex services. Advertised monthly savings: $10 ($5/month for DSL inclusion; $5/month for DirecTV inclusion).

Middle range: $111.99/month for three-product bundle of Verizon Freedom Unlimited phone service; Verizon Online DSL; and DirecTV Total Choice package without local TV channels and without premium multiplexes. Advertised monthly savings: $10.

Low end: $74.90/month for two-product bundle, including Verizon Freedom Unlimited phone service plus Verizon Online DSL. Advertised monthly savings: $5.

Notes: Verizon also advertises savings of up to $240 per year on combinations of phone features within its “Verizon Freedom Unlimited” packages. In other words, customers can buy phone packages including caller ID, call waiting and other features for less than the sum of their ala carte prices.

Phoenix

Cox Communications Inc.

High end: $169.65/month for three-product bundle of Cox Digital Cable with two themed tiers plus four premium multiplexes; 4 Mbps/768 kbps “High-Speed Internet Premier” service; and Cox “Unlimited Connection” phone line, plus calling features and unlimited nationwide long-distance. Advertised monthly savings: $11.25.

Middle range: $131.80 for three-product bundle of Cox Digital Cable with one themed tier and one premium multiplex; 4 Mbps/512 kbps “Cox High Speed Internet Preferred”; and “Unlimited Connection” phone service. Advertised monthly savings: $11.25.

Low end: $81.90/month for two-product bundle of Cox Digital Cable with one themed tier and no premium services; and “Cox High Speed Internet Preferred” service. Advertised monthly savings: $10.

Qwest Communications International Inc.

Bundle brand: “Qwest Choice.”

High end: $209.92/month for four-product bundle of “Qwest Choice Home Plus” local phone service, plus calling features and unlimited long-distance; wireless phone with 500 minutes monthly; DirecTV “Total Choice Premier” video package with local channels and five premium multiplexes; and “Qwest Choice DSL Deluxe” 1.5 Mbps/896 kbps Internet service. Advertised monthly savings: $10.

Middle range: $113.97 for three-product bundle of “Home Plus” phone service, plus long-distance; DirecTV “Total Choice Plus” with local channels and one premium multiplex service; and “Qwest Choice DSL” service at 256 kbps/256 kbps. Advertised monthly savings: $10.

Low end: $72.98/month for two-product bundle of “Home Plus” local phone plus long-distance service; and “Qwest Choice DSL.” Advertised monthly savings: $5.

Charlotte, N.C.

BellSouth

Bundle brand: BellSouth Answers.

High end: $210.92/month for four-product bundle of “Complete Choice” local phone service with calling features, plus unlimited long-distance; Cingular Wireless “GSM Bundle Nation” 450 minutes/month plan; “FastAccess DSL Extreme” (3 Mbps/384 kbps) Internet; and DirecTV “Total Choice Premier” with local channels and five premium multiplexes. Advertised monthly savings: $30.

Middle range: $132.93/month for three-product bundle of “Complete Choice” phone service, plus unlimited long-distance; “FastAccess DSL Ultra” (1.5 Mbps/256 kbps) and DirecTV “Total Choice Plus” video package with local channels and one premium multiplex service. Advertised monthly savings: $20.

Low end: $79.94/month for two-product bundle of “Complete Choice” phone service, plus unlimited long distance; and “FastAccess DSL Lite” (256 kbps/128 kbps). Advertised monthly savings: $10.

Notes: BellSouth’s bundling strategy is designed to lure multi-product customers to the company’s $25.99/month Unlimited Long Distance option. Those who buy phone, wireless, satellite TV and DSL services from BellSouth can save $30/month if they get the unlimited long-distance package.

Time Warner Cable

High end: $202.80/month for three-product bundle of “Digi- PIC 4000” digital cable package with one thematic tier plus four premium multiplexes; “Road Runner Premium” 8 Mbps/512 kbps high-speed Internet; and Digital Phone service with unlimited long-distance calling, calling features and $3.95 voice-mail option. Advertised monthly savings: $10/month.

Middle range: $155.80/month for three-product bundle of “DigiPIC 1000” digital-cable service with one thematic tier; “Road Runner High Speed Online” 5 Mbps/384 kbps Internet; and Digital Phone with unlimited long-distance, calling features and voice mail. Advertised monthly savings: $5/month.

Low end: $106.90 for two-product bundle of “DigiPIC 1000” digital cable service and Road Runner Internet service.

Notes: Road Runner is available for $29.95/month entry price for six months to new customers. Discount on Digital Phone service is $5/month for one-product TWC customers and $10/month for two-product customers.

Notes:

  • Bundled discounts reflect the stated price difference between monthly prices charged for product combinations, and the sum of the ala carte prices for the same services.

  • The prices reflect only recurring subscription fees for services, and do not include installation charges, regulatory fees and/or lease or rental costs for in-home equipment.

  • “Bundles” are defined as at least two products combined from the following product groups: multichannel video services; wireline phone services; wireless phone services; and high-speed Internet access. Multiple components within a single product group (such as a local phone line plus caller ID and call waiting) are not considered to constitute a bundle.

  • High-speed Internet service data rates are listed as the maximum advertised speeds, expressed as downstream data rate/upstream data rate (example: 5 Mbps/384 kbps).

 

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