Verizon Gets Big Fla. Video Franchise

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Verizon Communications Inc. gained approval for its largest video rollout to date, when the Manatee County (Fla.) Commission voted Aug. 27 to grant a cable franchise passing 235,000 homes.

The agreement includes only county territory, not the incorporated cities of Bradenton, Palmetto, Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key.

This is the telephone company's second Florida franchise. The city of Temple Terrace approved a franchise earlier this year.

Officials said Verizon has already deployed 1.8 million feet of fiber in the county, where the telephone company will compete with Bright House Networks and Comcast Corp.

Under the terms of the agreement, the telephone company will provide financial support and capacity for education and government access channels, support for a future institutional network for schools, libraries and other sites; and free service to government buildings.

Florida has a simplified uniform communications-tax structure, so the cable operation will have to pay fees comparable to the state's other providers. Those fees will be remitted to cities served in lieu of local franchise fees.

But the franchise might have tax implications for Verizon's cable competitors. The telco has agreed to a 32-cent-per-month charge to support new education and government programming. Because of the state's level-playing-field laws, that charge would also be applied to Comcast and Bright House.

Franchises for the incumbent operators are up for renewal, and those companies indicated they would fight the fee in contract negotiations.

Verizon now has franchises in California, Texas, Virginia and Maryland. The company will seek a statewide franchise in Texas if Gov. Rick Perry signs a deregulatory bill currently on his desk.

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