NEWS- Splitsville: Sprint ready to Embarq

Your Sprint local service bill is about to become history. Come May 17, Sprint-Nextel will disconnect from its landline services, which will don the green, Robin Hood-hat logo of the newly formed Embarq.

What does Embarq mean? It means Sprint-Nextel will go wireless, and Embarq inherits the wire-line portion of the corporation.

"It'll be a totally separate company with separate stock," says former Sprint/soon-to-be-Embarq spokesman Tom Matthews. "We'll be a competitor with Sprint."

The split has been in the works since Sprint announced its merger with Nextel in 2004, according to Matthews. "Embarq and Sprint Nextel will be free of the potential conflicts that come from two companies that are part of the same organization but have different agendas and long-term goals," he explains.

Embarq will be a Fortune 500 company on its own and the fifth-largest local-access phone company, with 7.4 million local access lines in 18 states. "It's going to be a good thing for the consumer," promises Matthews.

Others are more skeptical about the spin-off. "It is a very odd decision that in a world where others are converging, Sprint splits up," says Phil Harvey, a news editor at Light Reading, which reports on the communications industry.

He cites the mergers of SBC, Bellsouth, and AT&T and their bundling of satellite TV, DSL, broadband calling, local phone service, wireless, and video on demand. "They're basically doing everything but delivering the mail," says Harvey. But by not bundling, he says, "You miss the opportunity to converge services and offer one bill."

Au contraire, Matthews indicates. "We're bucking the trend, but we're providing the complete package. Convergence is there," he insists.
Still, Harvey sees pitfalls ahead for Embarq. "Consumers don't have any stock in this new brand," he says. "Some people might look at that and say, 'I never signed up for that; I want to go with a company I've heard of.'"

And in the competitive world of telecom, with cheapo broadband phone services like Vonage that can knock $20 off a phone bill, Harvey believes Embarq will have to offer more to keep customers from straying.

"It should be, I'm gonna provide as many services to the consumer as possible," suggests Harvey. "That decreases the reason to look around every six months."

Embarq may be a new company, but its predecessor companies, including Centel, have more than 100 years of working with the Charlottesville community, says Matthews. But until the companies separate, he can only hint at the enhanced products with better value he says are coming this way.