NYC: Consumer Groups Want Verizon Franchise Delay

Posted on May 22, 2008 - 5:45am.

from: Crain's New York

Consumer Groups Want Verizon Franchise Delay

Crain's New York Business, May 20, 2008
By Amanda Fung

Consumer advocate groups Common Cause New York and People’s Production House, as well as some City Council members, say Verizon's deal with the city merits further scrutiny.

Consumer advocate groups as well as members of the City Council want the New York City Franchise and Review Committee to delay a vote that would grant Verizon Communications Inc. a cable television franchise during a public hearing on Tuesday.

The groups, Common Cause New York and People’s Production House, say the public was not given enough time to review a deal cut between the telecom giant and the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications granting Verizon a 12-year cable franchise agreement.

Additionally, the City Council’s Committee on Technology in Government, chaired by Councilmember Gale Brewer, says many concerns that were expressed during the negotiation process were not remedied in the proposed agreement. The cable deal was reached on April 29.

“We think there should be a lengthy public comment period,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which is asking the FCRC to delay its vote by three months to September. “This franchise is a valuable opportunity for New Yorkers to gain improved services.”

The groups say the deal doesn’t provide enough support for the city’s public, education and government channels. While Verizon has agreed to annual grants calculated each month based on per TV subscribers, the consumer groups as well as Councilmember Brewer’s Committee believe that Verizon should provide more assistance to public channels in the form of high definition bandwidth and video-on-demand features.

“Public access channels serve the city. There is nothing in the agreement at this point that allows PEG channels to keep up with technological developments and remain competitive against commercial channels,” said Kunal Malhotra, director of legislation and budget for the office of Councilmember Brewer. “They will be left behind.”

The groups will also argue for an increase in the proposed $4 million grant for a technology and education fund that will create an independent group to address digital divide issues in the city. Verizon is expected to disburse the money over a seven-year time span. Common Cause and other advocacy groups will also ask for better consumer protections in the form of outage penalties and other customer service provisions.

“If Verizon wants to deliver cable using the city’s right of way they need to give a lot more back,” said Mr. Malhotra. He added that Councilmember Brewer’s office hopes the results from these negotiations will lead to better terms in the city’s franchise renewals with incumbent cable providers Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Inc., which are scheduled to begin this summer.

The public hearing is taking place at the New York City College of Technology in downtown Brooklyn at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The FCRC is expected to vote on the Verizon cable franchise as early as May 27. If the committee approves it, the agreement will be forwarded to the New York State Public Service Commission for final approval.

( categories: NEW YORK | Verizon )