Verizon Sues Over IPTV
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Reporter's Notebook: While Congress dithers over a telecom reform bill that may or may not pass this year, Verizon is moving to the courts to prove its point that a national video franchising law is necessary.
Both the Senate and the House are pushing legislation to allow Verizon and AT&T to bypass local franchising authorities in rolling out their Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) offerings.
The idea is to streamline the entry into the pay television market to bring another competitor to cable systems.
There is widespread support for the idea on both sides of the aisle in both chambers, but other issues -- most notably, network neutrality -- may sink the effort.
With that scenario hanging in the air, Verizon went to federal court late last week to sue Montgomery County, an affluent Maryland suburb in the Washington metropolitan area.
Verizon is currently in negotiations to obtain a pay TV franchise from the county. Montgomery County, presumably, would like a competitor to current incumbent Comcast to bring down cable prices.
Yet the negotiations have dragged on for more than a year.
Verizon's lawsuit asks the court to declare that Montgomery County's cable franchise process and requirements violate federal communications and antitrust law.
"Verizon regrets having to take this step, but the county's unlawful demands leave us no other choice," John P. Frantz, Verizon vice president and associate general counsel, said in a statement.
"We would prefer to reach an agreement on a franchise that would offer Montgomery County consumers more choice for their cable services, but after a year of essentially fruitless negotiations, we are at an impasse."
In addition to the usual squabbles over fees, Verizon claims Montgomery County is demanding that the telecom giant set aside about 65 channels of digital capacity for public, educational and governmental programming, even though the county currently has programming for only 11 channels.
Montgomery County officials say there is one small problem with Verizon's lawsuit: the company has yet to actually file a cable franchise application.
"Repeatedly I have urged Verizon to submit a cable franchise and yet they have refused while posturing publicly...that they were committed to working with us," Montgomery County Council member Marilyn J. Praisner said in her own statement.
"We facilitated the deployment of their fiber-optic technology even though it created construction problems in our neighborhoods and caused disruption of service for Comcast and others."
Praisner is the chair of the council's Management and Fiscal Policy Committee, which oversees cable franchises.
She said the council in the past has "promptly" processed franchise agreements with, among others, Comcast.
"It's not rocket science," Praisner said. "Verizon just doesn't want to play by the same rules as everyone else."
It's probably not a coincidence that a number of members of Congress live in Montgomery County. Even lawmakers want lower cable rates.
"This lawsuit is not really about Montgomery County," Praisner said. "It is Verizon's attempt to influence federal legislation."
Oops, Sorry About That: Turns out, Google has been selling advertising to sites that promote child pornography.
An ongoing House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation on online child pornography turned up the advertising.
Informed of the matter, Google blacklisted the sites. Google called the ads an "oversight."
Oops, Sorry About That, Too: Effective Sept. 1, Comcast will extend the amount of time that it retains customers' Internet addresses from one month to six months. The same investigation that found Google's oversight also discovered Comcast couldn't comply with a law enforcement request for an address that was only three days old.
There are few statutory requirements on the amount of time an Internet service provider (ISP) must retain customer records.
Following Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' recent suggestion that ISPs retain records for up to two years, Congress is considering a mandatory nationwide data retention law.
"Currently, there is no federal law and no industry standard. This is seriously hindering investigations," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said at a hearing last week.
"If investigators can't get the information they need to connect an IP address to a person, then too often the case hits a dead end."