Verizon Hooks Manatee FIOS Franchise

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Manatee County, Fla., has voted to award a franchise to Verizon for its cable-like FIOS TV fiber-delivered video service.

The 15-year franchise covers the 235,000 potential subscribers in areas where Verizon's fiber network is under construction. It will be extended to other areas of the county as that system is built out. It will already be the largest population to be served by a FIOS TV franchise to date.

For its part, the county will get educational and governmental access channels, an institutional network for schools and libraries, free service for government buildings, and more.

The franchise calls for Verizon to pony up 32 cents per sub to fund the PEG channel and a half dollar per sub to pay for the institutional network, but Verizon said that is pegged to the same levy being put on incumbent cable operators Brighthouse and Comcast, which currently do not have that obligation, said Verizon spokesman Bob Elek.

Verizon also agreed to provide a second PEG channel when the county says it will be ready for it--July 2007--but, again, only if Comcast and Brighthouse are required to follow suit.

The franchise doesn't cover a number of separate municipalities within the county--including Bradenton, Anna Maria, Longboat Key, Holmes Beach, and Palmetto--because separate agreements must be struck with each.

Elek said there had been talk of creating a consortium among those municipalities, using the Manatee franchise as a model, but there were some last-minute snags.

Phone companies have been pushing hard for relief from having to seek individual deals for their fiber roll-outs, arguing that will slow the roll-out of much-needed broadband service and cable competition.

Texas has passed a statewide franchising bill that Verizon and SBC were backing, and a couple of bills in Congress would make it easier to roll out telco video by letting the companies overbuild under the same franchise deals as incumbent cable operators in one case, and by clearing away all the regulatory hurdles in another.

Verizon has eight franchises for its video service so far, which it plans to roll out in Texas within the next two months.

The company has content deals with NBC Universal Cable, Starz, Showtime, A&E, Discovery, and Turner, among others.

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