Panel nears cable deal

County Council, Verizon reach agreement on franchise plan

June 21, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

The Anne Arundel County Council is poised to approve a cable franchise agreement with Verizon Communications next month after the company agreed to speed up installation to the county's northern and southern tiers.

On Monday, the council unanimously approved an amendment that would bring cable service more quickly to communities such as Hanover, Linthicum and Severn in the north and Galesville in the south.

"I was amazed when I looked at the map that they weren't covering Linthicum or Severn," said County Council member Pamela G. Beidle, referring to Verizon's initial plans. "I wanted to get North County covered, and they came back in about a week and showed that they were expanding coverage."

Beidle, a District 1 Democrat, said that Verizon cable service would be available in her district within three to five years.

The council is expected to vote on the Verizon agreement July 5.

Under a draft 15-year agreement, Verizon would join Comcast Corp. and Millennium Digital Media in providing cable service to Anne Arundel County residents.

Verizon would provide cable service to about two-thirds of the county - running east from Laurel through Odenton and Crofton and into Crownsville, Severna Park, Mayo and Annapolis - in an initial phase. Within that area, Verizon has agreed to offer cable to all businesses within two years and to nearly all homes within five years. Where service will be installed depends on population density, according to the deal.

Within seven years, about three-quarters of the county would have service, except portions of the southern end, according to the agreement.

Together, Comcast and Millennium cover about 99 percent of the county. A Verizon spokeswoman told the council the communications giant would have the largest potential customer base in Anne Arundel.

Under the agreement, 11 months in the making, Verizon would provide free basic cable service to all county schools, fire and police stations and libraries.

Five channels would be public access stations and the county would receive 5 percent of Verizon's cable revenue.

The county collects about $5.6 million in fees from Comcast and Millennium annually.

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, said that with the expanded Verizon service, the county could expect "significantly more" than what it already collects in cable revenue.

"We are very pleased," he said. The bill "should fly through."

Donora L. Dingman, Verizon's assistant vice president for external affairs, said Verizon's presence could mean a 15 to 17 percent reduction in cable TV bills as companies jockey to attract and retain customers.

"We feel that this agreement will benefit Anne Arundel County and its residents," she said. "Customers will save money."

The deal comes at a time when Verizon is rolling out FiOS TV - a premium service that relies on fiber-optic lines to deliver a digital picture.

The service is available in a handful of states, including Maryland and Virginia.

If the council approves the deal as expected, Anne Arundel would become the second Maryland county after Howard County to grant Verizon a cable franchise.nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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