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Bright House kicks up turf war

The company nets a Hillsborough schools contract formerly held by rival Verizon.

By MADHUSMITA BORA
Published March 8, 2007


Bright House Networks is taking its turf war with Verizon beyond the homes and into the schools.

The company recently netted a three-year contract to provide an internal fiber network for data management at Hillsborough County Schools. Archrival Verizon was the previous service provider.

"We continue to aggressively go after business opportunities," said Joseph Durkin, spokesman for Bright House.

The strategy isn't about grabbing young customers, Durkin said, but an extension of the company's "commitment to schools and our community."

It also helps the company score against its rival. But Verizon downplayed the deal.

"They are yet another competitor," said Verizon spokesman Robert Elek. "There's high competition in the business space, and there's always some give and take going on."

The companies have made advances in their wrestling match over territory, technology and services. Bright House, a traditional cable and Internet service provider, launched a digital phone service, signing up nearly 24,000 customers last month. Verizon gambled millions of dollars and entered the cable television market, challenging Bright House at its game.

Verizon has begun providing television services to parts of Pasco, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, intruding into traditional Bright House areas.

It also chanted the fiber-optic network mantra, proclaiming to be the one company that brings the technology right to your home, along with its star products: the FiOS television and FiOS Internet.

The accelerating competition is good for consumers, said Dennis Walpole, director of business computing at the University of South Florida.

"They are both providing more or less the same services, so the problem is how do you get someone to switch from one provider to the other," Walpole said.

"So whoever gets customers to buy into their product ends up winning."

Until now, the competition hasn't taken its toll on prices, but it has sent the companies into a frenzy of offering combined or bundled services under one bill. It has made them more aggressive about retaining and recruiting new customers.

Bright House is wooing existing customers by going door to door and checking on its service. In January it launched an automated system that calls customers and surveys their experience after a service.

Verizon is countering with its own door-to-door sales campaign.

The rivalry is extending into the area of technology. This fall, Bright House will begin promoting Start Over, a technology that allows digital cable subscribers to pause, forward or restart a program without new equipment or added costs. Verizon is introducing a FiOS television interactive guide no later than the fall. The feature would allow viewers to seek product information and shop for gadgets, recipes, movies, photos and more.

All that with just one goal in mind: capture or re-establish territory.

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at mbora@sptimes.com.