Manassas Cable Service Is Poised for Upgrade

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Comcast customers in Manassas and Manassas Park are finally getting what they wanted -- competition.

Verizon is discussing a cable franchise agreement with city officials, company spokeswoman Christy Reap said. Verizon is upgrading the copper wire system to fiber-optic service that would deliver phone, Internet and television to homes and businesses, she said.

"We hope to be able to get the services to as many customers as quickly as we can," Reap said, but she declined to say when such services will be available.

The franchise discussions began days after Manassas residents lambasted Comcast for poor customer relations, unreliable service and unkempt cable boxes during a franchise performance review. The complaints will be used to build a new agreement with Comcast, council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said.

Competitive franchises are "the driving force" to secure improved services for residents, said Way, who hopes to include stricter guidelines for customer service and repair guidelines in the new Comcast contract.

"You call and call and can't get anywhere," said Mary Ellen Merchant, who lives on Windsor Avenue. She described her frustrations with Comcast to the City Council, including having to prove her grandson's home burned down before the company would stop billing her.

Several residents who rely on their Internet connections for work cited service interruptions that went on for weeks. It "might be better to rely on carrier pigeons," Quarry Road resident Tom Waters said.

Hannah Senft said two of the five cable boxes in her Georgetown South neighborhood were not locked, which resulted in ugly exposed wires and service problems.

Comcast is spending $3 million to upgrade its system in Manassas. The work will cause outages over two or three days during normal work hours, said Gerald Scavelli, Comcast's senior manager of technical operations.

The upgrade, which should be complete by August, will give customers access to more than 250 channels, including more digital channels, 17 new high-definition channels and the option for a smaller basic-cable package, Comcast marketing manager Christy Foster said. The package is similar to what is offered in neighboring counties, she said.

Once fiber installation is complete and agreements are approved by the communities, Verizon will offer packages that include all-digital programming, 27 high-definition channels and video-on-demand services. Verizon FiOS is available in Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

Both Verizon and Comcast include upgraded Internet and phone service.

The new franchise agreement between Manassas and Comcast will be much like the deal with Verizon, to keep things fair, City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes said.

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