Telco Takes on DC 'Burb in Franchise Fight

Verizon has sued Montgomery County, Md. in U.S. District Court over what the telco terms "numerous unlawful demands that have stymied the negotiations." Among other things, Verizon claims the county asked for 65 PEG (public, education and government) channels, regulatory authority over the telco's fiber infrastru
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Verizon has sued Montgomery County, Md. in U.S. District Court over what the telco terms "numerous unlawful demands that have stymied the negotiations."

Among other things, Verizon claims the county asked for 65 PEG (public, education and government) channels, regulatory authority over the telco's fiber infrastructure, attorney fees and additional cash.

"Verizon is asking the court for a preliminary injunction invalidating Montgomery County's current cable franchising law and directing the county to negotiate a franchise with Verizon on lawful terms within 60 days. At the same time -- in an effort to help speed the negotiations to resolution -- Verizon is asking the court to invalidate the numerous unlawful requirements the county is attempting to impose on the company," read a statement from the telco.

Verizon claims it's been in negotiations with the county for a year, to no avail, casting itself as a sort of frustrated consumer savior with regard to providing competition with cable TV.

"We're frustrated at the lack of progress in these negotiations, because the inordinate delay benefits only the monopoly cable incumbent. Meanwhile, Montgomery County residents continue to suffer, held hostage to Comcast's ever-rising cable rates," said John P. Frantz, Verizon vice president and associate general counsel.

Oh, come on, said Montgomery County officials.

"I am stunned to have these false accusations by Verizon leveled against Montgomery County," said Marilyn Praisner, vice president of the county council.

"Repeatedly I have urged Verizon to submit a cable franchise and yet they have refused while posturing publicly before the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee that they were committed to working with us. Our committee has reviewed and promptly processed franchise agreements with Comcast and RCN... it's not rocket science."

That the lawsuit emerged in a Capitol Hill bedroom community during a holiday break on Capitol Hill was no accident, Praisner said. It also happened to be filed in the midst of hotly contested telecom reform legislation that would allow Verizon to waltz into Montgomery County and any other municipality without having to kowtow to local authorities.

"This lawsuit is not really about Montgomery County. It is Verizon's attempt to influence federal legislation," Praisner said. "It is about eradicating the role of local government, the government closest to the people, and our efforts to protect consumers and our local rights-of-way."

The telecom reform bill passed by the House earlier this year is predominantly comprised of national franchising directives that would allow vide service providers like Verizon to bypass the nation's 40,000 or so local franchising authorities.

The companion Senate bill is 10 titles that include network neutrality language that represents a wedge among members. A hold has been placed on the bill so that it can't be passed without a floor debate, and with floor time tight before election campaigns begin, there's no guarantee the bill will reach the floor this summer as many had hoped.