Comcast may get competition for city's cable TV customers

MARYSVILLE Competition equals lower prices and better service.

At least that is the theory and hope of city officials working with cable TV, phone and Internet service provider Verizon.

"For the first time, we may have a new entity coming into our city and offering cable TV service," said Marysville Community Information Officer Doug Buell.

Buell has been acting as the point man in hammering out a new cable franchise agreement with Verizon to compete for Marysville cable customers with current service provider Comcast.

On July 21, City Council got their first look at a possible franchise agreement for Verizon to provide cable TV in Marysville. The company already supplies Internet and phone service here.

A Verizon vice-president for franchise operations, Larry Manion told council members his company has been working aggressively at building a new fiber optic network throughout the area. If council approves the new franchise, Manion said Verizon could flip the switch starting the new service Sept. 1.

The franchise agreement before City Council applies only to incorporated Marysville. But Manion said Verizon is working with Snohomish County on a similar contract to offer cable TV service in unincorporated areas surrounding the city.

While he publicly offered no details on pricing, Manion said federal law dictates his company offers services similar to those of the existing franchise holder. Verizon will host the same community access and municipal channels carried by Comcast.

All in all, Manion said he expected his company initially would offer 400 channels, including, by the end of the year, about 150 high definition channels.

Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp said his company already is in competition with various Internet and phone providers along with satellite TV services. While Verizon officials bragged about their new fiber optic network, Kipp added Comcast already has fiber optics in place and operating in Marysville and surrounding areas.

Prior to the recent meeting with City Council, Verizon spokesman Jon Davies claimed that unlike the Comcast system, Verizon fiber optic lines will run directly to a customer's home. Essentially, he further claimed that Comcast fiber lines stop at the curb.

"The overall network is only as fast as that last little piece of the network," Davies added.

Buell said the city has been working with Verizon since roughly April. Besides providing local access channels and similar services offered by Comcast, Buell said he expects Verizon to be held to the same service standards the city dictated to Comcast.

Those standards address such issues as wait times for customers calling the company, dependability of in-home service calls and other similar concerns.

According to Buell, any new Verizon customers still would have to pay a 75 cent monthly fee charged by Comcast, a fee that goes to support the city's so-called I-Net system that electronically links together various municipal buildings.

Besides possible lower prices, Buell said local officials hope the potential competition between the two companies results in more channel selections as well as higher broad band speeds for customers of both of Verizon and Comcast.

"That's the beauty of competition," Buell said.

Buell added that Comcast already is working to upgrade its fiber optic system in the area, possibly in response to the pending arrival of direct competition.

"Verizon already has raised the stakes," Buell said.

"We are constantly investing in our network," said Comcast's Kipp.

He further doesn't believe Verizon can compete with his firm in terms of customer service. He said Comcast has local offices in Lynnwood, Everett and Fife.

"When you call us, you're talking with someone in Washington," he said. "We think that's a real plus."

City Council members had few questions for Verizon representatives and there was no indication when the franchise agreement might be completed or come up for a vote, though the issue could be on the table as soon as council's July 28 meeting.

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