Phone vs. Cable: Turf Wars Escalate – New York Times
PHOENIX — Bees swarmed around Dennis Pappas as he pried open the door to a telephone equipment box belonging to Qwest Communications at an apartment building here recently. Inside, the insects had built a small but seemingly busy hive.
The bees called the box home because workers from Cox Communications, a local cable provider, did not properly plug a hole in it when they switched customers in the building over to Cox’s phone service, said Mr. Pappas, a public policy chief at Qwest, the local phone company. As a result, Qwest had to bring in a contractor to undertake the risky task of removing the hive.
It may sound like a small thing, but Qwest says the infested box is just one of many pieces of equipment that Cox has damaged or misused. It says Cox has left wires exposed and improperly grounded cables, hazards that could disrupt phone service or hurt customers and workers. Qwest even argues that the damage is part of a plan to make it harder to sign up customers it lost to Cox.
Technicians who came to Qwest from Cox said “that their instructions were to make it as tough for Qwest to win back the customer as possible,” Mr. Pappas said.
Cox says Qwest is exaggerating the scope of the damage, and it says there are many explanations for the problems — including improper maintenance by Qwest’s own workers. Cox also insists it fixes any damage brought to its attention.
There has been an outbreak of this kind of finger-pointing across the country lately, a product of the increasingly bitter turf war between phone and cable companies. After decades of relative peace and separation, friction is growing as cable providers sell more phone lines and phone companies get into the video business.
For the most part, the sparring has been limited to advertising campaigns and promotional offers. But here in Phoenix, where Cox has stolen nearly a third of the residential phone business from Qwest, the rancor has escalated. In January, Qwest filed complaints with state regulators over the equipment problems, leading to a protracted legal standoff and public backbiting.
Given the disputes over who did what, and the lack of any central records, it is hard to say how much these incidents are actually hurting the cable and phone industries, or their customers. But complaints by the companies are clearly on the rise. [Read on]