ROCKVILLE, Md. – Verizon Communications hopes to take a bite out of Comcast Corp.’s business in Montgomery County by signing a cable television deal there, the fifth of its kind in Maryland so far.
Verizon’s move into cable television follows Comcast’s venture into the state’s telephone market near the end of last year, and underscores a national trend of cable and phone companies competing for customers with packages of phone, Internet and cable television services.
“It’s harder and harder to talk about the phone business and the cable business anymore,” said Harry J. Mitchell, a spokesman for Verizon. “The lines that have defined those businesses are blurring and going away.”
About 30 consumers packed into a forum Thursday evening in Rockville to voice support for the deal. Many had a bone to pick with Comcast.
“Comcast technicians took whatever issues I had and tossed me aside,” said Silver Spring resident Samuel Jones. “I would hope those issues would not come up with Verizon.”
Other unsatisfied cable-watchers, like Larry Spiwak of Rockville, said they hoped the competition between Comcast and Verizon would create better service and knock down prices.
“There will be better service and it will bring in revenue for the county,” he said.
The Montgomery County Council must sign a cable franchise agreement with Verizon before residents can receive video service from the company. Under terms of the deal, Verizon could finish replacing its copper telephone wires with fiber-optic cable throughout the county and provide cable services to consumers as an alternative to Comcast, which has a near-monopoly in the county.
If an agreement is reached, Verizon hopes to offer the services in the county in a few months, Mitchell said. After securing a similar deal with Howard County in January, Verizon offered cable services to residents there in March.
Mitchell said the company is pushing similar agreements throughout Maryland. Verizon also signed deals to bring video to Anne Arundel County, Bowie, and most recently, Laurel.
Mitchell said the company is negotiating agreements with Annapolis as well as Prince George’s and Baltimore counties. The company is “not yet” negotiating with Baltimore City.
Lisa Altman, a spokeswoman for Comcast, downplayed the significance of the cable customers the company has lost to Verizon this year but would not give an exact number.
“You have to remember that Comcast provides service to everyone in those areas, and all those people have access to our products and services today,” Altman said. She said she couldn’t speculate on business a few years into the future, when Verizon expects to have finished laying down fiber-optic cable in several areas in the state.
Both companies say they welcome the competition and that it is not significantly hurting their own businesses.
“We have faced fierce competition from a number of companies, and Comcast is the latest one,” Mitchell said. “That’s fine. We want to bring the same type of competition to cable service.”
Altman said the company was still reviewing the Verizon agreement and could not comment on specifics, but said Comcast wants to ensure there is a “level playing field” between the two companies.
“We don’t want Verizon to be given a more lenient set of standards than those required of Comcast,” Altman said. In states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Verizon has pushed for bills that would allow it to bypass local governments in securing cable deals or sign the deals more quickly.