The Star-Ledger

Aid Or Ad? New Telephone Hookup Website Blurs The Line, Critics Say

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, July 10, 2008

BY TOM JOHNSON
Star-Ledger Staff

It is being billed as one-stop shopping for people on the move – a new website that helps anyone who is relocating to another part of the country set up essential services such as gas, electric and telephone.

But at a time when telephone customers have more choices than ever – traditional phone companies, cable TV operators, internet start-ups – movaroo.com offers just three options: Verizon, AT&T and Qwest.

It's no accident.

Movaroo.com is funded exclusively by the three phone companies, which have struggled mightily to keep customers from defecting to cable operators such as Comcast and internet-based phone companies such as Vonage.

Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research, a technology research firm based in Boonton, described the consumer website as a "marketing and branding tool" for the telecommunications companies, particularly Verizon and AT&T. Both of the phone giants now have national footprints, allowing them to market to customers all over the country, he said.

Verizon provides home phone service in parts of 25 states, including New Jersey, while AT&T operates in 22 states.

Ev Liebman, program director for the consumer advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, was more blunt.

"If you go online and you only have one choice of a subsidiary of one of these companies, it's not one-stop shopping," she said. "It's simply misleading. Consumers need to be aware that there are other companies providing similar services and possibly at lower prices."

The backers of movaroo.com make no apologies.

"It's not unlike what other industries do when they provide services," said Frank Kellam, business development manager for Verizon. "You won't find the traditional phone companies on a similar site (cablemover.com) set up by the cable companies. It's not unique and it's not out of line."

Seth Morrison, a senior vice president of the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which runs the cable industry website, agreed.

"Why is it when you go into McDonald's you can't order a Burger King?" he said.

The movearoo.com site, which is free, is simply designed to help consumers manage their move, Kellam said. He said it is more comprehensive than similar sites because it offers an opportunity to hook up electric, natural gas and other needed services, he added.

Kellam denied movaroo.com was set up solely as a defensive move against the cable industry.

"It's not reactionary," he said. "It will benefit the consumer in the long run, and it will benefit us with giving us the opportunity to retain some customers."

Last year, Verizon lost about 10 percent of its residential customers, or nearly 3 million households.

The website is managed by WhiteFence, which provides of online comparison shopping services. Its own website, WhiteFence.com, offers consumers more choices than movaroo.com when shopping for home phone service, including cable television providers.

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