Cable From Verizon?

Cable From Verizon?

Council defers application by Verizon for cable franchise agreement, compares with Cox Communications contract.

In the telecommunications industry competition is considered a good thing, especially for the consumer.

To generate competition in Herndon, Verizon has applied for a 15-year cable franchise agreement to be held within the town.

Verizon, which has held a telephone franchise agreement in Herndon since 1987, hopes to provide cable services using its existing network in town.

"We've been building out in the Herndon area for a number of months now," said Harry Mitchell, Verizon mid-Atlantic region spokesman. "We're building it in such a way, that if our [telephone] network is aerial now, or on poles, [the cable] will be on poles. If it's buried, then it will be buried, and for all new developments it will be buried."

Currently Herndon only has one cable franchise agreement with Cox Communications, and although familiar with competition, Cox representatives have some concerns about Verizon's proposed contract.

"We definitely believe in the fairness of competition and we welcome the applicant, or any applicant in the future," said Kathryn Falk, vice president government affairs, Cox Communications. "Verizon is saying there are no differences between what they are providing and what we are providing. But there are significant differences and we believe the town should take a look at the differences before they proceed."

VIRGINIA LAW STATES a second cable franchise may not offer a contract that is "more favorable or less burdensome than," the existing contract, said Richard Kaufman, town attorney.

Kaufman said the town has asked its telecommunications attorney, a contract attorney in Richmond, to review the two contracts.

The attorney's job will be to determine if the contracts are on a "level playing field," or if there are any discrepancies.

Kaufman also said the town is looking into how Herndon Community Television (HCTV) could be worked into the new contract. Because it is only partially funded by the town and through various grants, Kaufman said the broadcast company needs to work with Verizon to determine how they could operate so they can continue to serve the community.

The Town Council heard from Verizon representatives June 14 during its public hearing, but deferred action on the agreement until its July 12 public hearing.

Mayor Michael O'Reilly said the council wanted more time to evaluate the agreements and to hear from the telecommunications attorney.

"We all realize we are not in the cable business, " he said about understanding the language. O'Reilly said the work has been contracted out because it is a specialty topic.

He also said that the council and town staff received a 43-page report from Cox Communications detailing side-by-side comparisons of the contract, showing possible discrepancies.

Falk said there were three major differences between the agreements that raised questions.

"It looks like Verizon does not want to serve all of the population," she said about the availability of all the company's services.

Falk said through its agreement Cox is required to provide all its services to any citizen in town who wants them. She said the franchise agreement proposed by Verizon offers a "complicated formula" for determining who receives what services.

A second point of concern was the customer services offered by Verizon. Falk said they felt Verizon "wants to be held to fewer standards" than Cox when working with the public.

The final concern dealt with construction standards in town and the hours of operation. Falk said the contract proposes that Verizon be "held to different standards."

"We felt the contract doesn't do justice to the citizens of Herndon," she said. "We thought it was important to bring forward information on the differences, but we do welcome the competition."

MITCHELL SAID VERIZON wants to open a cable franchise in Herndon because it already has an almost 20-year relationship with the town.

He also said Verizon is beginning to implement a fiber-optic network called FiOS, which has specific criteria that needs to be met, and Herndon met it.

"When we looked at building our fiber-optics program we looked at a number of things," he said, listing demographics, an understanding of current facilities in the area and population density.

"Where we've been building," he said about the last eight months of construction in Herndon, "ultimately we're looking to offer cable services."

He also said they believe the contract is comparable to the existing Cox franchise agreement. He said because "Cox has 100 percent of the cable market," Verizon is technically at a disadvantage with zero percent.

"The contracts do not have to be word for word," he clarified. "We feel the contract, from a legal standpoint, meets that requirement, and it is in the public interest to approve it."

Through Verizon's franchise agreement telephone service, which already exists, cable service and internet service would be offered.

Eventually they plan to offer FiOS, a fiber-optic service that can be used to connect a home or business directly to Verizon's network, according to Mitchell.

This means consumers would be able to download large files and movies faster than anything currently offered, said Mitchell.

Cox also offers phone, internet and cable services to residents in town. Falk said they too have just bumped up their internet speeds to offer faster services to residents, at no additional costs.

"Our main objective here is that this is nothing but good news for residents in Herndon," said Mitchell about the competition. "They're going to get nothing but choices for their service and both of us will have to keep our pencils very sharp."