Freewheelin’ Cablevision Parties Hard Before (or During) WiFi Phone Launch

Cable companies don’t often hold launch parties for new products. In fact, Cablevision Systems had apparently never thrown one until, on Feb. 4, it invited reporters to the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York to help celebrate the introduction of its new WiFi-only phone offering, Freewheel.

CEO James Dolan, looking relaxed in a sweater and sport coat, made the rounds on the hotel’s rooftop terrace while other attendees made their way around the bar and appetizer tables and hobnobbed with the likes of Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Steve Schirripa.

Dolan said one difference this time is that Freewheel isn’t about how many TV channels you can watch or record on a DVR or about home phone service. “It’s about connectivity,” he said, and given the choice between TV and connectivity, 80%-90% of consumers would choose connectivity every time.

He said Cablevision didn’t celebrate the launch of phone service in 2003 because “nobody thought it would work. But it did.”

Freewheel will work, he said, and “it will not be our last product. Which means there will be more parties.”

Yes, Cablevision seems excited about Freewheel — maybe a bit too excited. Just prior to the splendid launch party last Wednesday night, Freewheel sent out emails to a group of interested consumers saying the order spigot was open before everything was ready to go, ahead of the official launch on Thursday.

Freewheel’s Twitter handle playfully owned up to the mistake, albeit temporarily, as the tweet seems to have been deleted (after The Wire got a screengrab).

Time will tell how Freewheel resonates with consumers and whether it will disrupt a mobile market that’s dominated by the likes of Verizon Communications, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. But it’s presumably a good sign Cablevision had received some early interest before Freewheel “officially” rolled out.

Communications Law in ‘Flux’

Americans for Tax Reform picked an iconic DeLorean automobile to drive home the point that communications regulations are in need of an overhaul.

This is the third year ATF has pitched reform on the Feb. 8 anniversary of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the last update of the Communications Act. ATF would love to see a paring back of regulations it suggests belonged with the rotary phone, or in this case a “brick” cellphone (held by ATF’s president, Grover Norquist).

ATF decided to make its point by recruiting Marty McFly (Ken Smith of Fairfax, Va.) and his replica time machine from the Back to the Future saga to tour Capitol Hill on Feb. 5 (as Feb. 8 was a Sunday).

“[Back to the Future Part II] was set in 2015 so it made a great linkup for this year’s campaign,” Katie McAuliffe, the ATF federal affairs manager who accompanied the car on its travels, told The Wire.

“There has definitely been a thoughtful discussion about how to update the act” McAuliffe said, adding that the FCC’s move to “expand its authority through title II” was an “excellent illustration” as to why Congress needs to do so.

— John Eggerton