Charter Sets Phone Service Deal

The company names Sprint, Level 3 and Accenture its partners.
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Striving to keep pace with crossover-minded rivals, cable operator Charter Communications (CHTR) - Get Report hammered out phone-service arrangements with two big carriers and a consultant.

The St. Louis-based company said it reached agreements under which

Level 3

(LVLT)

and

Sprint

(FON)

will provide long distance and local telephone service connectivity in selected Charter markets.

Accenture

(ACN) - Get Report

, meanwhile, will provide telephony provisioning services.

"These agreements enable Charter to significantly increase telephony deployments in each of our Divisions during 2005," said Charter exec Tom Cullen. He said the agreements with Sprint and Level 3 will help Charter reduce the cost and time required to deploy telephony services across many markets. The agreement with Accenture will provide Charter with automated provisioning processes, which are designed to improve operational efficiency and accelerate customer acquisition.

The news comes as big cable and telephone companies jockey for positioning in an increasingly converging technology marketplace. Big cable companies like

Comcast

(CMCSA) - Get Report

and

Cablevision

(CVC)

have staked a claim to phone service via the heavily hyped voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP, standard. For the time being, though, there has been more talk than actual progress, with Internet phone customers still numbering less than 1% of the industrywide total.

The companies have high hopes, though, that they'll be the first to offer consumers the communications industry holy grail of television, Internet and phone service through one connection.

Charter had more than 31,000 telephony customers as of the end of the second quarter, with service offered in multiple markets and more markets being planned for later this year and in early 2005.

Its stock dropped 2 cents Monday to close at $3.12.