Maryland county 'stunned' by Verizon suit

By John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

The Montgomery County (Maryland) Council has fired back at Verizon in the wake of the telco's lawsuit charging the county with "unreasonable and illegal" demands in ongoing franchise contract negotiations.

Council VP Marilyn Praisner said in a statement: “I am stunned to have these false accusations by Verizon leveled against Montgomery County.

“Repeatedly I have urged Verizon to submit a cable franchise and yet they have refused while posturing publicly before the Management and Fiscal Policy (MFP) Committee that they were committed to working with us...."

“Verizon just doesn’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. The County has been more than patient with Verizon. We facilitated the deployment of their fiber optic technology even though it created construction problems in our neighborhoods and caused disruption of service for [incumbent cable operator]Comcast and others.

“This lawsuit is not really about Montgomery County. It is Verizon’s attempt to influence federal legislation. 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.”

In the suit, Verizon alleges that the county's demands violate antitrust laws and FCC regulations and effectively protect Comcast. Verizon wants the court to enjoin current county franchising laws and direct the county to negotiate a franchise on lawful terms within 60 days.

Verizon first asked for the franchise for its FiOS multichannel video service in May 2005.

Verizon points out that it has been able to strike deals with neighboring Howard County and, soon, with Ann Arundel County, Md., as well as the Cities of Bowie and Laurel. Praisner countered in the statement that the county has been able to strike deals, too. "Our committee has reviewed and promptly processed franchise agreements with Comcast and RCN; it’s not rocket science."

The suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., is against a Washington suburban county that is home to numerous legislators and comes at a time when Verizon and other telcos are arguing for passage of a national video franchise bill in part by saying that unreasonable franchise demands are holding up the roll-out of broadband.

article originally published at http://broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6349826.html?display=Breaking+News.

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