Verizon line plan OK'd

County Council endorses the company's upgrade, allowing it to seek license to offer cable television


A planned upgrade of Verizon Communications' utility lines was endorsed last night by the Baltimore County Council, and company officials said they will move in earnest to obtain a license to offer cable television in the county.

The license, called a franchise agreement, would establish the areas in which Verizon would offer cable TV, as well as how much of company profits from the operation would go to the county. The license would be obtained through the County Council.

A Verizon executive said after last night's meeting that the company intends to apply for a franchise within a month.

"We want to get into [the market] and get customers as soon as possible," Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said earlier in the day. "We have no reason to drag our heels."

She declined to say how long she expected franchise talks with the council to take. The company reached a franchise deal in Howard County in about four months.

Verizon would compete against Comcast, the only cable provider in Baltimore County, and satellite television providers.

To upgrade its network, Verizon plans to install almost 2,500 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the county.

The council, by a unanimous vote, approved the agreement between Verizon and the government that would allow the construction in public rights of way.

Under the deal, Verizon would pay the local government up to $2.47 million, including a lump sum and 19 cents for every foot of cable installed.

The money would cover the expense of an independent construction manager to oversee on behalf of the county and for routine inspections of the construction, according to county officials.

Verizon's new network, which would replace its copper telephone lines, would be able to carry a bundle of phone, Internet and cable TV services into homes and businesses.

Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell said the fiber-optic network will offer a "tremendous amount of capacity both for Internet access at very high speeds and for video as well."

He said that Verizon's home Internet service in Baltimore County has a download speed of 3 megabits per second. With fiber-optic cable, that speed would increase to at least 5 megabits per second, he said.

Mitchell said the new network would be less susceptible to service disruptions caused by adverse weather.

Comcast spokesman Jim Gordon said his company uses a combination of fiber-optic cable and copper wires in the county, and Verizon's network would be "very similar."

Verizon officials have declined to say where exactly they plan to build their network, saying that they did not want that information known to their competitors. But they said that they will build the network in sections, meaning that some neighborhoods will have access to the services before others.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, said he suspects that the network's strategy will be to offer services to the most populous and wealthiest areas of the county first, such as Towson.

"We do not redline or discriminate where we offer service," Mitchell said. "Not only is it against the law, but it goes against our corporate being."

He said that studies "show the amount of income you have is no real indicator of how much video or data services you buy. Why would Verizon just enter the market as a new player and shut out people who could be prime customers?"

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat who negotiates franchise deals on behalf of the council, said he has invited Verizon officials to enter talks several times since October.

He suggested that the company has avoided negotiations because it is hoping for the passage of proposed legislation in Congress that would allow companies to bypass local governments and obtain statewide franchises.

Arnette, of Verizon, dismissed that suggestion in an interview yesterday, contending it would have made no sense to work toward a cable franchise before approval from the council to move forward with the upgrade of its network.

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