Qwest Gets Video Pact in Salt Lake

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Qwest Communications International Inc., which has been quietly offering video service in three markets, appears to be getting more active in that business.

The telephone company has been granted a franchise to deliver video in Salt Lake City, over the objections of Comcast Corp. The incumbent is most-alarmed about language in the telco’s franchise that does not compel a complete buildout of the community unless Qwest’s video services penetrate 51% of the market.

Comcast contended the competitor would never reach that level of penetration and therefore would never have to serve the entire city. The cable firm wanted the city to compel a buildout in three to five years.

But a city staff report on the competitive franchise said the 51% buildout requirement eliminates a “significant barrier to entry” to new providers.

“Their criticism is that we should build out the way they did,” Qwest regional spokesman Vince Hancock said. “When [the original cable franchisee] got to market, they got to pick and choose” where the plant would go. The phone company wants the same flexibility to choose its video market that Comcast expects as it deploys phone service, he added.

The Salt Lake City Council approved a 15-year franchise for the telco by a 6-1 margin on Nov. 17. Qwest pledged to provide advanced services such as video on demand and high-definition television.

Qwest also has a partnership with DirecTV Inc. to sell direct-broadcast satellite services, bundled with its phone products.

Comcast’s franchise is up for renewal. Local executives complained to the city about their lack of notice of the talks with Qwest. Comcast officials fear they will be compelled to comply with deal points they had no part in negotiating.

No start date has been set for construction of Qwest’s video business, nor has the company decided on the technology it will use, Hancock said.

Qwest currently offers video in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, Colo., Phoenix and Omaha, Neb. The company declines to state its subscription numbers for that service.

Customers in those three markets are served via very-high-speed digital subscriber line technology (VDSL).

Qwest also is deploying fiber-to-the-home architecture in Lone Tree, Colo. and South Jordan, Utah. Subscribers haven’t been added in those two communities, Hancock said.

Qwest is also in negotiations with the Greater Denver Metropolitan Telecommunications Consortium, which represents 30 communities, including Denver itself.

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