Verizon tries to start serving Tampa for TV service by Mitch E. Perry

05/11/06

The Tampa City Council today discussed for hours a resolution authorizing phone giant Verizon to sell cable television service in the City.

But as of press time – The Council had not decided. They were scheduled to bring it back for an up or down vote at 6:30 tonight.

The idea is that the competition to the only cable provider in town, Brighthouse, will provide reduce prices for consumers.

Verizon won a similar deal with Hillsborough County in February, so this potential city deal would give Verizon access to sell a combination voice, Internet and video service to the bulk of Hillsborough County's population. City Attorney David Smith began the discussion today by giving a lengthy presentation about why the City Administration believes the deal – which would pay Tampa a million dollars up front and 65 cents for every customer Verizon added, was a good deal for all concerned (roll tape#1 o.q.�they are identical�)

But Brighthouse – and some City Council members, disagreed. Steve Anderson is an attorney representing Brighthouse Networks. He read aloud a section of Florida Statute that no municipality or county should grant any overlapping franchises for cable services on terms more favorable or less burdensome than those in any existing franchise (roll tape#2 o.q.�franchise agreement�)

The issue of making franchise agreements a state issue vs letting local municipalities and counties deal with cable companies was discussed in Tallahassee, but did not pass in the legislature. Part of that argument from cable companies has been complaints about local governments. City Councilman John Dingfelder sounded skeptical when he asked Verizon’s representative, Alan Ciampacero (roll tape#3 o.q.�substantial discount�)

Councilwoman Linda Saul Sena asked Verizon’s Alan Ciampacero about complaints that have been made by consumer advocates in other parts of the country where Verizon has begun service. That they ‘cherry picked’ wealthier communities, and left out lower income areas (roll tape#4 o.q.�very diverse neighborhoods�)

The City has been in negotiations with Verizon for over a year. A Wall Street Journal story last year made it appear that City Attorney David Smith and other officials were playing hardball with Verizon, asking for more than what was fair. Smith vehemently denied that report..

Councilman Kevin White was the first council member to ask – is the deal being offered to Verizon truly a level playing field as City Attorney Smith charged (roll tape5 .q.�please explain that to me?�)

Several Council members agreed that the deal negotiated by the City did NOT allow for a level playing field, and that Verizon was getting a better deal.

Councilmembers wanted to add a provision that would require that Verizon pay an additional amount of money - 5.25 million dollars – which is the contract that Brighthouse has with Tampa.

Verizon will offer up to 300 digital video and music channels, including 24 high-definition television channels and 4,000 movies on demand.

Currently, Tampa viewers must turn to satellite companies for programming alternatives. The City Council will vote on that at 6:30PM

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