Baltimore County Council members approved last night the start of negotiations on a deal that could give county residents a third choice of cable television providers.
The council unanimously voted to start franchise talks with Virginia-based Cavalier Telephone Corp., which applied for a license to offer cable service in the county.
Council President Stephen G. Samuel Moxley and Councilman Vincent J. Gardina were absent.
Cable service is provided to county residents by Comcast, long the area's dominant provider, and Verizon, which began offering service to parts of the county in the spring.
The council's vote does not approve a franchise agreement with Cavalier, but it clears the way to begin drawing up an agreement, in essence saying the company is strong enough to do business in the county, according to Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who negotiates cable franchises on the county's behalf.
"We encourage competition as a marketplace regulator of both price and service," Kamenetz said last night. "More choice is good for county consumers."
Cavalier officials have said that if negotiations with the county go smoothly, the company could start offering service to some areas by Jan. 1, using copper lines leased from Verizon to deliver the service.
It remains unlikely that the company will be able to offer service in all parts of the county, according to county officials.
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, according to a spokesman. Cavalier is also seeking to offer cable service in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties.
The county and company now begin a 90-day process of settling on the terms of the agreement, including which areas would be served first and how much the company would pay the county for use of public land.
The agreement must be approved by the council, and a public hearing would be held on any tentative accord, Kamenetz said.