CenturyLink's IPTV service could set off Nebraska price war

Local officials are hoping that CenturyLink's (NYSE: CTL) impending Prism TV service launch in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, Neb., along with metro Omaha, will ignite a price competition with incumbent cable providers Cox Communications and Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR).

Prism TV should launch in the area by the end of the month, after CenturyLink negotiated franchise agreements with Douglas and Sarpy County governments and enhanced another agreement signed with Omaha in December. The carrier already offers DirecTV satellite service as part of its voice, video and data bundle in metro Omaha, but will now expand its terrestrial networks to offer Prism TV beyond what had originally been a small, somewhat restricted franchise territory. That expanded agreement runs through 2022.

Where it has rolled out CenturyLink offers Prism TV packages starting at $39.99 a month and including bundles of phone and Internet service, prompting Omaha deputy city attorney Thomas Mumgaard to tell the Omaha World-Herald, "We hope to have more price competition."

The new franchise agreements require CenturyLink to offer service to 25 percent of living units in Omaha within the first three years, after which it is obligated to expand only if 27.5 percent or more of possible subscribers sign up. If that happens, the carrier must build out an additional 15 percent of Omaha living units within two years. If those goals are again exceeded, the cycle begins again.

The city would have liked to push CenturyLink harder but, Mumgaard said, federal law prevented the city from requiring a metro-wide rollout from the beginning.

Cox isn't the only carrier expected to feel the competitive heat. Charter Communications serves nearby Springfield where Mayor Mike Dill told the newspaper that elected officials and residents welcome the competition.

"Any time the people of Springfield have options that they can make their final choices from, the better off it is for everybody," Dill said.

Cox, though, is expected to take the biggest competitive hit, as CenturyLink moves into its franchise areas in Bellvue, Gretna, Ralston City and LaVista.

While a CenturyLink spokeswoman wouldn't talk about the rollouts with the newspaper, Gail Graeve, a Cox spokeswoman dodged the competitive issue and focused on Cox's overall business strategies which, she said, "are driven by innovation in technology (and) providing the products customers are seeking and delivering superior customer service."

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- the Omaha World-Herald carried this story

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