Has Cable’s Commercial Services Business Reached a Crossroads?

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    For the past 25 years or so, the cable industry has been gradually changed from a simple video provider to a broader service provider with Internet and phone services also on the menu. It has also tried, with some success, to become a player in the commercial services sector.

    The limiting factor of its commercial services efforts, though, always has been regionalism. The fact that multiple service operators divvied the country up geographically meant that an operator could be strong in one area but weak in another. This kept cable providers from attracting nationwide or multinational clients. Instead, their sweet spot was smaller—largely local businesses and highly concentrated companies in verticals such as education and health care.

    That is slowly changing, though. Comcast Business announced its Enterprise Services unit this week, according to NetworkWorld. The goal of this unit is to “go after Fortune 100 companies regardless of geography.” Comcast Business has spent $1 billion annually on its infrastructure, and it will offer the big firms Ethernet, Internet access, advanced voice services and a variety of managed services.

    It seems that the move was inevitable. Comcast Business is active in 39 states and all but five of the top 25 markets. The multiple system operator (MSO) also recently acquired Contingent Network Services, which provides managed services to other national entities.  

    The company’s move to the bigger leagues will be gradual. Comcast is the operator with the biggest footprint and thus is a natural to court big clients; however, this is the playing field of the telcos, who have spent decades successfully developing their businesses. One of the secondary reasons that cable historically has settled on the small to midsize sector is because it was more or less ceded to them by the telcos. In short, it was easier to do business with smaller companies both technically and competitively.

    And SMBs are still largely the sweet spot. An example of the vertical strength of the cable industry is a deal signed last month by Time Warner Business Class (TWCBC) and MiCTA, an association that Multichannel News says represents governmental organizations, schools and health care, which are precisely the verticals with which the industry is most comfortable.  The deal makes TWCBC an approved national vendor for members.

    At the end of the day, an MSO’s ability to handle national and international services is dependent upon the ability to trade traffic efficiently with other operators. As explained by LightReading’s Mari Silbey, the cable industry says it is trying to offer such consolidated services, but it’s not easy simply because the array of offerings is so great and there is a need to honor customers’ service level agreements (SLA) throughout the chain so exactly:

    Speaking in a keynote session at the Big Telecom Event, Rowley addressed one of the challenges that regional cable operators have long had in the business services market, which is how to compete against telcos with national footprints. Rowley suggested that eventually cable operators will band together to service out-of-market customers. However, he also cautioned that it won’t be easy.

    The cable industry’s traditional path is to operate in unison on big projects. More informally, the idea is to get onboard with Comcast. Perhaps now, though, the industry has found a way, through Comcast Business, to effectively court big customers.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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