Cable companies pull out of mobile venture

Pivot partners invested $100 million each

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Three of the nation's largest cable companies are quietly pulling the plug on a joint cell-phone venture with Sprint Nextel Corp., called Pivot.

Spokespeople for Comcast , Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications said Wednesday they have stopped marketing the Pivot service and plan in the coming weeks to give their Pivot customers the option of switching to traditional Sprint mobile phone plans.

A spokeswoman for the fourth cable partner, privately held Advance/Newhouse Communications Inc., declined to comment.

Pivot customers will be able to keep their phones and their numbers and receive a month's free Sprint service for their trouble.

Announced with great fanfare in November 2005, the four cable partners and Sprint each invested $100 million in the venture. The Pivot brand was unveiled a year ago.

The partnership's goal was to give the cable operators a "quadruple play" of voice, video, Internet and wireless products in their battle against telephone companies that have added TV to their arsenals.

But the cable companies said the complexity of the offering itself, as well as meshing what was essentially a retail operation with their cable service, made marketing Pivot a chore and controlling the direction of the joint venture difficult.

"We remain committed to bringing a wireless component to our portfolio of services, but we don't believe Pivot was the best option," said Cox spokeswoman Jill Ullman.

The cable companies refused to say how many customers they had signed up through Pivot, but each said it had launched the service in a limited number of markets.

Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley added that it's still unclear how important wireless services are in keeping customers from jumping to other providers.

"Wireless in some format may be part of our portfolio, but we haven't seen a tremendous demand for the traditional quad play," he said.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint Nextel announced in November that it was halting planned expansions of the service as it sought to make the offering simpler and easier for customers to understand.

Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer said the company has since pulled marketing materials for Pivot from its retail stores in all but three markets.

"The driver was there were operational challenges that made it difficult to sell and bring products to market," Tiemeyer said. "It just wasn't a long-term solution."

She said the company will continue working with the cable providers to find a way to sell wireless to their customers. Sprint is still a partner in SpectrumCo, a consortium that purchased a number of wireless spectrum licenses in a federal auction in 2006.