Coming soon: Competition in Howard County's cable television market. That's if Verizon Communications Inc. gets its way.

The New York-based telecommunications giant is hammering out details of a cable franchise deal with the county in the months ahead.

Comcast Inc., the county's sole cable service provider for almost two decades, says it welcomes the competition -- but only if the county grants Verizon the same terms and conditions Comcast has.

One of Comcast's concerns: Verizon is building its fiber-optic network only in the county's affluent neighborhoods.

"Verizon should not be allowed to cherry-pick only high-end customers," Brian A. Lynch, a Comcast official, said in a statement presented to the Howard County Council.

Noted, say county officials.

"We've made it clear to Verizon we expect them to serve the entire county," said Dean Smits, the county's cable administrator, who started negotiating with Verizon this week.

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) adds: "I have no reason to believe that is what they were doing or trying to do . . . I've heard the exact opposite."

Meridian Wins Contract

Meridian Medical Technologies Inc., maker of nerve agent antidote injectors, won a $50.4 million contract from the U.S. military.

Under the one-year contract, Meridian must be prepared to deliver up to 2.4 million auto-injectors, if necessary, to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The injectors are pressure-activated devices with concealed needles that users stab into their thighs if they are exposed to nerve gas. The needle administers the drugs atropine or pralidoxime into the blood stream.

Meridian, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bristol, Tenn.-based King Pharmaceuticals Inc., does not make the drugs. It only makes and fills the injectors, then delivers them to the military.

James E. Green, a vice president at King Pharmaceuticals, said the military may not need all 2.4 million injectors.

"We maintain a facility in St. Louis that is up and running and is prepared to provide the injectors as needed," Green said.

Meridian's relationship with the U.S. Defense Department dates to the 1960s. The company said it is the only supplier of Food and Drug Administration-approved auto-injectors containing nerve agent antidotes and has produced more than 185 million auto-injectors for the world market.

Oakland Mills Center Is Sold

The once languishing Oakland Mills Village Center should have new owners later this month.

The purchase price: $8 million.

Cedar Shopping Centers Inc., a real estate investment trust based in New York, said the area's demographics made the community shopping center an appealing buy.

"The property is in a stable community with rising per capita income and consumer purchasing power," said Leo S. Ullman, the company's president.

And because it's in a planned community, the barrier to entry is high for potential competitors. "The current competition is sufficiently far away. So this center will continue to draw on the local neighborhoods," Ullman said.

Ullman called the purchase price "attractive" and said he expects the deal to close later this month.

The Oakland Mills Village Center, one of the oldest in Columbia, was once plagued by vacancies. In 2001, the center lost its 42,000-square-foot Metro Food Market and the Exxon station. Attempts to attract a new grocery chain -- including Giant, Fresh Fields and Trader Joe's -- have failed.

But then Kimco Realty Corp., known for revitalizing small shopping centers, bought the property from Rouse Co. in February 2002.

Today, the center is fully leased, anchored by a Food Lion that opened last November.

Kimco still owns six of Columbia's nine village centers.

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