VIEWPOINT

At some point in most relationships, one partner looks at the other, and instead of seeing Prince or Princess Charming, sees a human … complete with flaws.

The partners in the newly named Sprint Spectrum L.P. are at that point. In other words, the honeymoon is over for Sprint Corp., Tele-Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc.

A story in the Wall Street Journal last week reported that the companies are looking to redefine some parts of their relationship and that all is not well with the venture.

Sprint Spectrum has been quick to deny any problems in the relationship and says the company remains committed to its long-term plans. However, the venture has revised the agreement regarding cable upgrades, allowing the cable companies to negotiate upgrades separately with Sprint Corp. on a market-by-market basis.

The alliance is complex, according to the company, so some revisions are needed. (The old “Times change, people change” response.)

Admitting the venture could need a little marriage counseling is not necessarily bad. Sprint and the cable companies allied at the end of 1994. That’s before the telecom bill became telecom law, before any bidding occurred for broadband personal communications services licenses and at a time when convergence was the catchiest phrase of the day.

Times change, people change.

Today, Sprint Spectrum finds itself in a free-for-all atmosphere where landline telephone giants can offer cable TV and long-distance phone service, long-distance companies can try their hand at offering local phone and cable service and where aggressive cable companies can vie for customers in the telephone business.

It’s a different world in 1996 than it was in 1994.

Sprint Spectrum has committed more than $2 billion to play in the PCS arena. Certainly none of the individual companies wants to throw that money away. And in comparing their financial commitment to wireless with some of the prices companies in the C-block auction are paying for the same licenses, Sprint Spectrum got a bargain.

Sprint Spectrum is wise to re-examine its relationship from time to time. The partners say they are committed to “their vision of a single integrated offering of wireless service, alternative local telephone service and long-distance service in a package with cable television service.”

Trying to offer every service to every customer is a big job. And while there may have been one way to accomplish that grand vision in 1994, there may be other ways to fulfill that vision in 1996. Their vision may need some revision.

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