Verizon Gets Deal Done in D.C. Suburb

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Acrimonious negotiations over a video franchise for Verizon Communications — including mutual accusations of bad faith — have finally ended with the Nov. 28 approval of an operating agreement for the telephone company.

“This franchise agreement means more competition. That's good for county consumers. I hope it will lead to better customer service — and lower rates,” said county council vice president Marilyn Praisner.

The approval came on the same day a neighboring jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Prince George's County, also finalized a franchise with Verizon.

In addition to those counties, Verizon has gained approvals in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and the cities of Laurel and Bowie in Maryland.

The company has already launched FiOS TV service in Anne Arundel and Howard counties and in Bowie. Verizon Maryland president William Roberts said service would be launched in the newly franchised counties early next year.

Pricing and packaging in the new areas has yet to be announced.

CUSTOMER-SERVICE GUIDELINES

Verizon had pursued an agreement with Montgomery County since March 2005. But the parties soon found themselves at odds. The county has written customer-service guidelines and other standards into local law and applied them to the current providers, Comcast and RCN. The latter competes with Comcast in less than 10% of the county, according to local officials.

In June, Verizon filed a lawsuit against the county in U.S. District Court, alleging the county's franchising process was tantamount to prior restraint. The company added the regulators have “untrammeled discretion” to award any, or no franchises at will, according to the lawsuit.

The county filed an angry response, alleging that Verizon never submitted a formal franchise application before running to court.

A magistrate was appointed Aug. 8 to lead the combatants back to the negotiating table.

FOUR BUILD ZONES

The approved 15-year agreement splits the county into four build-out areas. Verizon will provide service to at least 50% of the initial territory — including Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring, among other communities — within 12 months.

A second zone, including Takoma Park and Rockville, must have service available to 50% of residents within three years; the next zone (including Gaithersburg and Potomac) will get service to at least 50% of homes in four years.

Verizon will have three years from the date it reaches 75,000 customers countywide in which to launch its video service in the final zone, around Poolesville.

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