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Verizon OKs broad pact to carry digital public TV

Originally published in Current, June 26, 2006
By Steve Behrens

Verizon Communications, whose fiber-optic video service competes with cable TV in parts of seven states so far, has agreed to carry all freely available local public TV stations.

The deal, announced June 16 by APTS, PBS and the phone company, covers all DTV multicast channels aired by up to three local stations. That would include multicast channels such as Create, Explore, PBS Kids Go and PBS HD as well as stations’ other programming.

“Public television has it, and we have the capacity to deliver it,” said Kathryn C. Brown, Verizon senior v.p.

Verizon’s pact goes farther than the deal public TV struck last year with the major cable operators, said APTS President John Lawson. In that deal, cable pledged to carry the DTV multicast channels of at least one public TV station per market until February 2009, and multiple pubTV stations per market thereafter, Lawson said.

The new agreement doesn’t cover video-on-demand services. Verizon said it will negotiate those arrangements with local public TV stations.

The carriage pact comes at a time when Verizon is seeking passage of legislation that would streamline the franchising process and allow it to expand more quickly.

The House has passed a “video choice” bill, and the Senate Commerce Committee is considering S. 2686, the Communications, Consumer’s Choice and Broadband Deployment Act. Last week, Chair Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) postponed until June 27 discussion of the legislation because of a more contentious issue added to the bill, net neutrality.

Public TV has also begun preliminary talks with AT&T (formerly SBC), another major regional phone company that is moving into video services, according to Kristin Wilson, APTS spokeswoman.

Investors are skeptical of Verizon’s investment, which has averaged $1,400 per home installed and humbled the company’s stock price, according to news reports. But the biggest telcos believe they must compete against cable companies’ forays into voice and data services.

Both cable and phone companies want to be in the “quadruple play” business, selling video, Internet, voice and cellphone services in a monthly package worth hundreds of dollars. So far Verizon is offering FiOS digital TV service in parts of seven states — California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Texas — and is building systems in 19 states, Brown said.

Verizon will bring the vast capacity of fiber optics all the way to the home sub scriber, while recent cable systems typically group hundreds of subscribers in a neighborhood in an optical stream and run coaxial wires to the home, says David Young, Verizon’s v.p. of federal regulatory affairs.

Verizon’s FiOS service initially will devote about 850 MHz to one-way video services, while cable operators typically divide that bandwidth among video, Internet and voice services. Verizon will have a separate optical stream with a bitstream of about 622 mbps to carry Internet and voice services.

As demand grows, fiber capacity can be expanded by multiplexing — lighting the fiber with additional streams of data, carried on different light frequencies. Young expects cable operators will expand their capacity to keep up.

Verizon will offer on-demand video from its own servers, like most cable companies, but the growing speed of the Internet connections will also give viewers the choice of watching a potentially enormous range of high-quality video from Internet sites, though the Internet service typically is viewed on the screens of computers rather than TV sets.

ubscribers to the company’s Internet service can choose speeds of 5, 15 or 30 megabits per second—rising into the bitrate of the broadcast DTV signal, 19.4 mbps.

The print version of this article didn't include the limit of three stations per market, but that has been corrected above. It also reported incorrectly that Verizon's separate Internet/voice stream had a bandwidth of 622 MHz; actually, it has a bitstream of 622 mbps.

Web page updated July 7, 2006
Current
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2006

EARLIER ARTICLES

Cable's trade association NCTA signed a carriage deal with pubTV in 2005.

With assurance that they'll get widespread cable carriage, public TV plans multicast channels.

OUTSIDE LINKS

APTS press release.

Verizon FiOS TV service offers 180 channels for $39.95 a month, among other packages. FiOS TV premiered last year west of Dallas.

Senate committee okays by 15-7 vote Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act, which streamlines franchising, June 28.

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