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Digital Life: In KC cable wars, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) fires at Google Fiber

Newspaper ads by Spectrum, the former Time Warner Cable, are taking aim at Google Fiber.
Newspaper ads by Spectrum, the former Time Warner Cable, are taking aim at Google Fiber.

Time Warner Cable is dead. Long live Time Warner, er, Spectrum.

Where not long ago Google Fiber was the new cool kid in Kansas City, bringing to town a high-tech cachet and the promise of broadband to burn, now it’s the focus of ridicule in a Spectrum ad campaign.

“Abandoned by Google,” screams the headline in full-page newspaper ads running this month. “Kansas City residents have Fiber accounts canceled.”

We’ve got a cable war in Kansas City. The stakes only figure to go up.

The old Time Warner Cable was long loathed by customers as a semi-monopoly that charged too much, broke down too often and delivered internet that was too damn slow.

Now, swallowed by fellow cable giant Charter, it offers a friendly face under the new Spectrum brand and paints Google as the big guy who just doesn’t care.

To some extent, Google Fiber had it coming. It took small deposits from customers who waited for years — often passing up discounts from the competition in the meantime — and then told them this spring that it wouldn’t hook them up to its speedy fiber-optic lines any time soon.

Those customers (“too bad they couldn’t keep up with their end of the bargain,” one said this week on a Google forum) got a raw deal.

But Spectrum only sped up its service after Google Fiber came to town. Ditto AT&T, Comcast and Consolidated Communications. They all insist it was customer demand, not Google, that prodded them. Whatever.

Much has happened in the nearly five years since Google Fiber started selling service here. It’s all about the bundle. These telecoms and cable companies want to be your sole connection to digital content.

They know that the company’s skim from selling packages of phone, internet and video is bigger than selling you just one of those things.

AT&T bundles in cell service — particularly valuable because the company understands you’re less likely to switch to somebody else when everything’s conveniently combined and discounted in a single utility bill. Customer turnover is the bane of wireless carriers. Just ask Sprint.

Comcast is getting into the cellphone business. Google’s Project Fi (although not bundled with Google Fiber) will sell it to you.

Analysts assume that within a few years, any company peddling a cable subscription will offer cell service.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump signed legislation this month that killed privacy rules demanding your consent to collect and sell web browsing history and everything else that moves over your internet connection.

That gives your cable company even greater data-mining power than outfits like Facebook and Google, companies that have made billions tracking us.

The chance to wire your home or apartment has never looked more lucrative.

The war is on. Your info-utility bill is the prize.

Scott Canon: 816-234-4754, @ScottCanon

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