Policy

Md. County Fires Back at Verizon

7/21/2006 4:31 AM Eastern

Montgomery County, Md., officials struck back against a lawsuit by Verizon Communications, accusing the telephone company of attempting to use the courts to get around the county's strict consumer-protection regulations.

Verizon filed suit against the regulators late last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, alleging that county officials are demanding "burdensome concessions" in return for a county franchise for the telco's Verizon FiOS TV project.

But in opposition papers filed Thursday, the county asserted that it seeks competition but also requires competitors to adhere to rules that "[protect] consumers against corporations that refuse to play by the rules and instead seek preferential treatment."

County officials have attempted to negotiate an agreement for about one year on terms similar to those observed by Comcast and RCN, the two current video providers in the market. Verizon has demanded "special exemptions from lawful requirements" that other providers meet, the county filing said.

County officials added that they also offered to enter an agreement similar to one recently approved by nearby Fairfax County, Va., but Verizon balked.

If Verizon wants to engage in court rather than negotiate, the county is prepared to rigorously defend its consumer-protection laws, according to county chief administrative officer Bruce Romer.

Verizon officials responded to the legal filing by arguing that the county never suggested a Fairfax-like deal. The telco never applied for a franchise in Montgomery County -- one of the points raised in the county's opposition -- because Verizon was advised not to do so until negotiations were substantially complete.

Meanwhile, the telco has struck deals with 14 communities in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Verizon officials said Montgomery County’s "unlawful rules" are costing consumers $725,000 per month in competitive pricing savings.