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Verizon Seeks Cable Franchise

County Board is expected to vote next week on whether to allow Verizon to become Arlington’s second cable television provider.

Arlington residents may soon have a choice of cable television providers — and be able to watch every Washington Nationals game — if the County Board next week grants Verizon Virginia Inc. an operating franchise.

The board will vote on June 13 on a proposed agreement between the county and Verizon, which would enable the company to begin offering cable service in a matter of weeks. Currently, Comcast is the only cable provider in Arlington.

“Competition often times results in prices going down and services getting better, but there’s no guarantee, said County Board Vice Chairman Paul Ferguson.”

If approved, Arlington would become the 10th jurisdiction in the metropolitan region to grant Verizon a cable franchise.

“Verizon is very much looking forward to the opportunity to offer customers in Arlington a real choice for cable,” said company spokeswoman Christy Reap.

IN ANTICIPATION of receiving the authorization to provide cable, Verizon has already begun laying down fiber across the county. More than three-quarters of Arlington households will be able to purchase Verizon cable within three years, Reap said.

Comcast spokeswoman Lisa Altman said her company welcomed Verizon’s foray into Arlington. “We’ve been competing in the marketplace for years with satellite and dish TV, and continue to provide the best product and services,” Altman added.

Having a second cable service will give residents a range of new television packages and options, and should drive down the costs, said Tom Whipple, chair of Arlington’s cable television and information technology commission.

“We’ve always been in favor of this, because with competition the prices will go way down,” Whipple said.

A 2003 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that cable rates in markets with two companies were approximately 15 percent lower than in those with a single provider.

Verizon, unlike Comcast, carries the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which airs most Nationals games.

THIS IS NOT the first time the County Board has tried to attract a second cable company. In 2000 the Board awarded a franchise to StarPower, but due to financial issues the company has yet to build-out its infrastructure and offer cable services to residents.

As part of the agreement, Verizon would give 5 percent of its gross revenue to the county, with the funds to be used at the board’s discretion, said Rob Billingsley, Arlington’s IT procurement and franchise manager. The county would also receive $1.38 per Verizon customer per month for the first 50,000 subscribers, with the contribution rising to $1.80 for each additional household.

A new bill that goes into effect July 1 will curtail the county’s control over the amount of money it receives from cable companies. While jurisdictions currently have the freedom to negotiate, the new law restricts the amount of money providers can give public access channels.

While the new law is not the impetus for the board to vote on the Verizon proposal, it has sped up the county’s timetable.

“These negotiations were taking place before, but we’d like to have it done before the legislation kicks in,” Vice Chair Ferguson said.