Third cable TV provider seeks move into county

Va.-based Cavalier Telephone applies for a license

October 03, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

Baltimore County residents might soon have a third choice of cable television providers.

Virginia-based Cavalier Telephone Corp. has applied to the government for a license to offer cable service in the county, a company spokesman said yesterday.

The County Council has scheduled a vote Oct. 15 to decide whether to negotiate with the company.

Cavalier would become the third major cable provider in Baltimore County, joining Comcast, long the area's dominant provider, and Verizon, which began offering service to parts of the county in the spring.

"We welcome any qualified applicant to do business in Baltimore County, under the theory the more competitors there are, the better competition there will be for price and service," said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who negotiates cable franchises on behalf of the county.

Craig Pizer, a Cavalier spokesman, said that if negotiations with the county go smoothly, the company could start offering service to some areas by Jan. 1. Because the company plans to lease copper lines from Verizon to deliver the service, the company has no plans for construction, he said.

Cavalier also is negotiating with governments in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties for cable franchises, Pizer said.

"We think there's a demand for the product," Pizer said.

The company, which offers phone and Internet service in the Baltimore area, began selling cable television service in parts of Virginia last year. The company has about 5,200 customers in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas, he said.

Cavalier offers a bundle of cable television, telephone and Internet services for $79.95, he said. Comcast advertises its service package starting at $99 a month, and Verizon advertises a package for $94.99.

A Verizon spokeswoman said competition is good for business and consumers.

"When it comes to new entrants - particularly in the cable TV market - the more, the merrier," the spokeswoman, Sandra Arnette, wrote in an e-mail.

A Comcast spokeswoman released a statement saying company officials "love our competitive position."

"We continue to offer advanced products and services on a reliable, scalable fiber network that meets our customers' needs," the statement continued.

Cavalier has paid a $25,000 application fee for the license, known as a cable franchise, Kamenetz said. The council must decide whether the company is financially strong enough to offer service in the county.

If the council agrees to negotiate with Cavalier, the two sides would spend up to 90 days setting the terms of an agreement that would include which areas would be served first and how much the company would pay the county for use of public land.

Kamenetz said he would push for Cavalier to provide service countywide, but that the company has indicated it might not have the means to do so.

"I want to make sure the entire county is served by as much competition as possible," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "But I also am mindful that some kind of deal with Cavalier is probably better than no deal at all, in the interest of the taxpayers."

Pizer said the company hopes to serve as many households as possible, but that some areas of the county might be too far from the company's wire centers to receive service.

Verizon began building a fiber-optic cable network in the county last year.

Under a deal approved by the council in March, Verizon will pay 5 percent of its gross revenue to the county as compensation for using county land to deliver the service. Comcast contributes the same percentage to the county, paying about $9 million a year.

Verizon offers television in parts of Catonsville, Cockeysville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Towson, Arnette said, adding that sales in Baltimore County have been "tremendous."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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