Verizon Brings Antitrust Suit

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006

Verizon Communications ratcheted Montgomery County's cable war up a notch yesterday by filing a federal lawsuit alleging that the county's franchise approval process violates federal communications and antitrust law and the First Amendment.

Verizon has been upgrading its fiber-optic network in many parts of the United States in part to offer video services that would compete with those offered by cable television providers. The company said yesterday that Montgomery's regulators have been unusually reluctant to allow Verizon to offer such services.

The vast majority of Montgomery's cable customers are served by Comcast; a small minority get their cable from RCN, formerly Starpower.

"Montgomery County has used its power to withhold a necessary franchise to force Verizon to accede to the county's demands for payments, in-kind contributions, and burdensome local regulatory authority -- all of which are illegal under federal law," the suit said. Verizon says more than a dozen local governments in the Washington region have granted Verizon a cable television franchise or are about to do so.

Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler declined comment because county attorneys had not had time to review the complaint, which was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"Montgomery County residents continue to suffer, held hostage to Comcast's ever-rising cable rates," said John P. Frantz, Verizon vice president and associate general counsel, in a statement. Verizon asserts that its competitor has increased rates in the county by more than three times the inflation rate since 2000.

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