NY: Verizon TV proposal needs tuning

Posted on April 27, 2008 - 8:44am.

from: NY Daily News

Verizon TV proposal needs tuning

Friday, April 25th 2008, 4:00 AM

Telecom giant Verizon has finally submitted its long-awaited proposal for a competing cable television franchise for New York City.

If you live in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens and you're eager to ditch Time Warner or Cablevision, take a number.

Verizon plans to offer its FiOS TV service to virtually all Staten Island and nearly 60% of Manhattan residents by the end of this year, according to a copy of the company's proposal obtained by the Daily News.

On the other hand, FiOS will be available to less than 10% of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens this year. Most people in those boroughs won't be able to buy it until at least 2011.

While the company proposes to wire every neighborhood by 2014, the contract would allow extensions of up to three more years if Verizon's citywide market share does not exceed certain annual targets, known as "video penetration rates."

This "buildout" provision was a major stumbling block during months of secret negotiations between Verizon and city officials, sources close to the talks said.

Paul Cosgrave, Mayor Bloomberg's commissioner for the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications, sought to prevent a repeat of what happened decades ago when municipal cable franchises were first awarded.

Back then, major cable companies cherry-picked the most affluent neighborhoods and left low-income areas waiting years for cable service.

The new proposal provides certain safeguards against cherry-picking, but it still appears lower-income neighborhoods will have to wait in line.

Those who do get FiOS will find it harder to switch if they're dissatisfied: Verizon is proposing a cell phone-like penalty of $199 if you cancel your service early.

This cable deal is worth tens of billions of dollars to Verizon. It also will set the pattern for the city's renewal of the Time Warner and Cablevision franchises that expire this year.

Because cable companies deliver video, Internet and phone service over the same line, the new contracts will shape mass communications in our city for more than a decade.

Verizon is offering the public, educational and government channels on its system more money per subscriber than Time Warner or Cablevision, but critics say those channels will get second-class technology.

None of the public channels will provide HDTV, pay-per-view or video on demand - features that are available in the Time Warner and Cablevision contracts.

Dozens of cities around the country boast advanced video-on-demand for their public channels. If you have a child playing high school basketball, for example, you can come home at night and download your child's afternoon game on a public access channel. Or you can download a City Council or community hearing that occurred while you were at work.

In those cities, cable TV is doing more than just selling consumer products - it's helping to promote community and civic involvement.

The Verizon proposal falls short of that.

Even worse, the Bloomberg administration has negotiated this deal in secret for so many months - holding no public hearings - and wouldn't even discuss it Thursday.

The Verizon contract must be submitted to the city's Franchise and Concessions Review Committee, where it can still be amended.

It's time for public hearings and public debate on exactly what kind of competition Verizon will bring to the city's cable service.


( categories: NEW YORK | Verizon )