Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

Television and Internet provider WOW targets Tampa commercial customers

A new television and Internet provider is dipping its toes in the Hillsborough County market.

WOW, a provider with its headquarters in Colorado, in recent weeks has begun offering commercial Internet, data and voice services in eight buildings in downtown Tampa, the company's first Hillsborough foray, the company confirmed Tuesday.

The company already provides business and residential service in parts of Pinellas County, where it has more than 33,000 customers.

Steve Pozil, WOW vice president and general manager for Florida, said the company — its full corporate name is Wide Open West — is now spending $20 million to upgrade and expand its Tampa Bay network and wants eventually to expand into Hillsborough's residential marketplace.

"We are always looking for expansion opportunities," Pozil said. "I can't really give you a specific time frame or where we will be expanding. … It's kind of a work in progress."

While a relatively tiny player in the telecommunications industry, the company may find fertile ground in the Tampa Bay area given the troubles that have faced Frontier Communications after that company took over Verizon's landline phone, TV and Internet assets in Florida. Many Frontier customers have reported severe service outages and other issues since the April 1 transition.

Charter Communications' takeover of Bright House Networks last month, however, apparently has generated few customer complaints.

Pozil said WOW has looked to expand its share of the Tampa Bay market after Frontier's troubles. But he declined to criticize Frontier because of its problems.

"It's quite common any time you have an acquisition of another company … whether it's up on the front side in the very beginning of the merger or throughout their transition, it's very, very common to experience (service) disruptions," he said.

In a news release, the company said the $20 million "investment enables the company to compete more effectively and continue to grow in the area at a time when industry consolidation may cause some disruption and limit consumer choices."

Frontier officials offered WOW something of a welcome.

"This has been a competitive market since 1999 and it's only gotten stronger since then," Frontier spokesman Bob Elek said via email. "Competition makes every company better while benefiting the customer. We are confident that (Frontier's) network stands alone when it comes to reliable broadband speed. . . . HD-TV picture clarity and crystal-clear telephone service, allowing Frontier to meet however many competitors there are in the market and win."

WOW has about 60,000 customers in Florida and more than 780,000 in the Southeast and Midwest.

In the St. Petersburg-Tampa-Sarasota market area in early 2015 for video only, Bright House boasted about 908,514 customers, Verizon FiOS 393,928 and DISH satellite about 114,768. At that time, WOW had 12,324 video customers in the same area.

Telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said expanding into a market after major acquisitions makes good business sense. He said it's not just that a transition can produce customer service issues, as is the case with Frontier. But in the early years of an acquisition, Kagan said, companies are feeling their way, looking for organizational efficiencies and trying to mold the company.

"That's a good opportunity for any competitor who wants to come in and shake things up," Kagan said.

In the case of both Frontier and Charter, the companies have promised sterling customer service and say they are working as hard as they can to generate customer satisfaction and loyalty.

They may have their work cut out for them.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2016, released last week, showed that Frontier ranked last among 13 Internet service providers while Charter ranked seventh. Verizon was the top-ranked while Bright House was third. WOW was not listed.

Verizon also came in on top for subscription television service with Bright House fifth among 12 providers. Charter finished ninth, while both Frontier and WOW were not ranked.

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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