Comcast says it's now No. 3 U.S. home phone provider

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (L) shakes hands with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest during Robert's keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada in this file photo from January 8, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast Corp, the largest U.S. cable television company, said on Wednesday it has become the No. 3 provider of primary home phone service in the United States, overtaking telephone company Qwest Communications International Inc.

The cable company, which started offering phone services in the spring of 2005, said it now has 6.47 million subscribers that take its phone service. Comcast compared its numbers with Qwest’s primary consumer access lines, which totaled 5.96 million as of December 31. But Qwest has 6.5 million consumer phone lines in total when it includes additional home phone lines for subscribers who take more than one line.

Comcast said its rapid growth in the phone business has been driven by competing on price and offering innovative features such as universal caller ID, which displays the phone numbers of callers on customers’ phones, televisions and personal computers if they are “triple-play” customers.

“As a new entrant we’ve been innovating to give people new reasons to have a home phone” said Cathy Avgiris, Comcast senior vice president of voice services. Avgiris said the company has also offered its extra service at prices 20 to 30 percent cheaper than traditional phone services.

Comcast typically offers its stand-alone voice service at $39.95 a month, but nearly 90 percent of its phone customers take its competitively priced triple-play package including video and Internet access.

Cable and telecoms analysts have noted that there has been a growing trend toward “cord-cutting,” with more people opting to use just wireless phones for primary phone service, especially as they try to reduce their monthly expenses.

During the fourth quarter Comcast and other cable companies saw a sharp slowdown in the rate at which customers switched from traditional phone companies like AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.

Comcast’s phone service has been a key growth engine for winning new subscribers in recent quarters, helping to push its triple-play offer. It added 2 million phone subscribers in 2008.

Reporting by Yinka Adegoke, editing by Gerald E. McCormick