TNS Telecoms says that per-user telecom spending in the US decreased in the fourth quarter of 2002, the first quarterly decrease in more than three years.

For years, telcos have been relentlessly focused on increasing ARPU (average revenue per user, not the guy who runs the Kwik-E-Mart) to the detriment of customer service and rational pricing. Between competition for zombie telcos, their inability to deliver any new value propositions to their customers, their debt chickens coming home to roost, and the Bush recession (or the Bush dip in the Clinton recession if you prefer) these guys have what positive thinkers refer to as “an insurmountable opportunity”.

Short-term, don’t expect the telcos to cut publishers any slack. They’re going to be looking for change under every cushion in the marketplace. Long-term, look for their receivers to loosen things up after they’ve written off their debts.