Verizon Targets 50,000 Philly Homes For FiOS TV By End Of 2009

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Verizon Communication is aiming to have FiOS TV ready to light up for nearly 50,000 Philadelphia homes and small businesses by the end of the year, as the telco starts to aggressively market triple-play bundles against Comcast in the cable operator's front yard.

Verizon is touting FiOS TV's lineup of more than 600 channels, including 130 HD channels in Philadelphia -- whereas Comcast in Philadelphia currently offers 49 HD channels, according to its Web site.

The telco is making FiOS TV and FiOS Internet available to residents and small businesses in three areas of Philly: parts of Chestnut Hill, South Philadelphia and North Philadelphia. Verizon, which held a press conference Monday announcing the official launch, actually began "soft-marketing" the service in the city about a month ago, according to spokesman Rich Young.

Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia

Verizon will initiate door-to-door marketing, as well as print ads around the FiOS launch in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, Young added.

Under the terms of its 15-year franchise with the city, Verizon will bring service to all areas of Philadelphia within seven years. The telco expects that it will be able to offer FiOS service to about 660,000 households including living units in apartment buildings when the buildout of its fiber-to-the-premises network is completed in 2016.

Verizon will offer Philadelphia residents who are FiOS TV-eligible a triple play starting at $99.99 per month, with a 24-month contract, which includes the FiOS TV Essentials service (with only local HD channels), 15/5 Mbps Internet service and Freedom Essentials calling plan. In addition, customers who sign up for a qualifying FiOS service before Dec. 19 are eligible for a $150 Visa gift card and a free Home Media DVR for three months.

The telco currently offers those same sign-up incentives and offers across all FiOS markets.

Comcast Freedom Region spokesman Jeff Alexander noted that the cable operator already has been competing with FiOS TV in the Philadelphia suburbs for about three years.

"As the phone company announces service for small pockets of the city, we'll continue to innovate and offer products to all parts of Philadelphia," Alexander said. "We love our competitive position due to the strength of our offerings," which include 18,000 video-on-demand choices.

Alexander said the MSO is currently implementing Project Cavalry throughout the city, an effort to reclaim analog TV channels by giving customers digital transport adapters to replicate the expanded basic analog lineup.  Once that conversion is completed, Comcast will be able to offer 100 linear HD channels, he said.

Pali Research media analyst Rich Greenfield noted that Verizon is carrying Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia on FiOS TV, pursuant to a carriage agreement between Comcast and Verizon in December 2006 that included Versus and Sprout. DirecTV and Dish Network do not currently have access to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

"While it will certainly take time for Verizon to expand the availability of FiOS throughout Comcast's greater Philadelphia footprint, we believe FIOS's ability to offer Comcast SportsNet gives it a unique opportunity to offer competition to Comcast within Philadelphia," Greenfield wrote.

By comparison, in the New York metro market, Verizon does not have access to Cablevision Systems' MSG or MSG+ in HD or Time Warner Cable's NY1.

Verizon earlier this year introduced FiOS1 in New York and northern New Jersey with local news, traffic and weather. The company also operates a local channel for the Washington, D.C., market. Young said Verizon is "looking at various markets" for potential FiOS1 channels but there was nothing to announce.

Verizon now offers FiOS TV in about 300 communities in Pennsylvania. The company recently said it would put franchise negotiations for several communities in central Pennsylvania on hold, including Harrisburg, according to a report in Harrisburg's Patriot-News.

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