Comcast, Verizon Wage Licensing War / Towns Caught in Cable Crossfire

By Keith Reed, Globe Staff | October 30, 2005

Comcast Corp. wants to make sure Verizon Communications Inc. hears its message: The cable giant is not about to cede its prized turf to the phone company quietly.

Comcast earlier this month sent letters to about 20 municipalities in Massachusetts warning them it expects Verizon to be held to the same terms spelled out in its contract with those communities. Verizon is getting into the lucrative cable business and could pose to a big threat to Comcast if its service gains a foothold.

In one letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, Comcast reminded Winchester's board of selectmen of a clause in its cable license that guarantees a 'level playing field' with a newer competitor; that is, Verizon or any other competitors' licenses should be similar, if not identical, to Comcast's, or Comcast would be put at a disadvantage.

Already one Massachusetts community has inked different terms with Verizon. Early this month, Woburn granted Verizon a cable license but gave the phone company an escape clause that the city does not have in its contract with Comcast. The cable company worries that the Woburn deal will set a precedent that will allow communities to negotiate all manner of special deals with Verizon.

Comcast spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said the letter to the other Massachusetts communities reinforces 'our expectation that any new provider seeking a video license should operate under the same set of rules as Comcast.'

Comcast acknowledged that it cannot stop Verizon from becoming a competitor. Moreover, communities generally cannot refuse to license any new cable competitor unless they have some compelling reason.

But Woburn gave Verizon a clause allowing the phone company to pull out after three years if it decides it doesn't have enough video customers. Comcast has complained that the clause is unfair because its licenses don't include the same escape provision.

Mayor John Curran acknowledged Woburn's other licensed cable firms -- Comcast and RCN -- don't have such a clause, but said it isn't a big deal.

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