Qwest Has Portland, Ore., In Sights

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Telephone company Qwest Communications International could get a video franchise for Portland, Ore., by as early as Nov. 14.

The Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission voted 5-0 on Sept. 17 to recommend the franchise to the Portland City Council for its approval. A first reading should take place on Oct. 10.

The franchise approved by the commission, which handles video franchising for the city and surrounding areas, would award Qwest a six-year agreement. The telco could earn a two-year extension if it reaches at least 20% of the city’s dwellings in the first three years of the franchise; and another three-year extension if it reaches 30% of the community during its original term.

Judy Peppler, Qwest’s state president, said the company was very pleased with the commission’s action, especially the unanimous vote of approval. The company is also in negotiations with regulators in Clackamas County and the city of Milwaukie, she added.

Qwest is in the midst of an infrastructure upgrade in the region, installing fiber to the neighborhood node.

“We’re trying to upgrade as much of Portland as we can,” she said, explaining that the company would like to advertise with local media outlets, and not use just direct mail, when it is ready to launch the service it will call Qwest Choice TV.

The franchise, which has been in negotiations for more than a year, attracted the opposition of the Oregon Cable Telecommunications Association and Comcast, Portland’s incumbent operator. The opponents have argued that the pact proposed for Qwest is not substantially the same as the operating rules for Comcast.

In a staff report for the commission, officials said the terms of the franchise are as aggressive as possible given the current legal environment. A “mirror image” agreement of the one applied to Comcast would mean one thing: no competition in video services, the report said. The proposed pact is “reasonably commensurate” with the operating terms applied to Comcast, the report said.

David Olson, director of the commission as well as Portland’s office of cable communications and franchise management, said Qwest presented a map to commissioners detailing areas where it has upgraded its facilities with fiber to provide digital-subscriber line services and, eventually, video services. The neighborhoods on the map “cover the economic spectrum,” including “marginal” economic areas. That gave commissioners comfort that Qwest will not engage in redlining, Olson said.

Peppler said there is no target date as yet for launching video service in Portland. Qwest will deliver video service over Internet communications protocols, so the company is closely monitoring AT&T’s IPTV product.

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