Howard County and Verizon Communications Inc. have decided they need more time to hammer out the details of a deal that might allow Verizon to offer cable TV service in the county.

At the county administrator's request, the Howard County Council has agreed to extend negotiations with Verizon until Jan. 24, granting 90 extra days of deliberation.

The clock started ticking on a deal July 28, and negotiations were to end Oct. 26.

It's not unusual to extend deadlines in such complex franchise deals, both sides said at last Thursday's council meeting.

"It's really a procedural issue," Harry Mitchell, a Verizon spokesman, said earlier this week. "We're confident we can reach an agreement before the extension expires."

If the county grants the franchise, Verizon would be competing head-on with Comcast Inc., the county's sole cable TV provider for almost two decades.

Verizon has been pushing to enter the cable market as part of an industry-wide trend to bundle voice, high-speed Internet and video services. Meanwhile, cable companies such as Comcast have begun offering telephone service over the Internet.

Last month, Fairfax County granted Verizon a 15-year, nonexclusive cable franchise deal, marking the company's first foray into selling television service in a major metropolitan market. The company also has franchise agreements pending before Loudoun and Arlington counties, Leesburg and Fairfax City. And it's in negotiations with Bowie.

Columbia MedCom Group Moves

Columbia MedCom Group, a medical communications company, moved into larger office space this month to accommodate expanded services and a larger staff.

The company's new headquarters is at 9720 Patuxent Woods Dr., not far from its former location at the MedStar Building on Little Patuxent Parkway.

It's not the company's first move. MedCom, a privately held business funded by pharmaceutical companies, opened 17 years ago in Laurel before moving to Columbia.

MedCom is made up of two subsidiaries -- Innovia Education Institute and Medicalliance Inc. The first offers continuing medical education programs that physicians and other health care professionals must complete to keep their licenses current. The latter promotes and markets drugs to doctors and nurses.

"The pharmaceutical companies provide grants for [continuing medical education], and they are not allowed to influence the specific content of that information or influence the program to promote their drugs," said Kathleen Case, MedCom's executive vice president.

MedCom's clients include AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, Eisai Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Inc., Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc., Johnson & Johnson, MedPointe Inc. and Pfizer Inc.

Case said MedCom's sales have grown 23 percent on average for the past three years. The company employs 64 workers.

"We moved so we could have a larger space for our growing staff and so we can continue to grow," Case said. "We also wanted to design space that was more efficient and appropriate for the services we're offering."

In May, MedCom announced it had been purchased by an employee stock ownership plan on behalf of its full-time employees. Financial partners in the acquisition were Wachovia, Allegiance Capital and the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Seminars Offer Variety of Advice

Want to start a farm? Avoid an employee-generated lawsuit? Enter the global marketplace?

There are plenty of seminars to choose from.

A series of seminars devoted to part-time farming will be held from 6:45 to 9:15 p.m. every Wednesday from Oct. 26 to Nov. 16 at the Howard County Office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension, which is co-sponsoring the series with the Howard County Economic Development Authority. The cost is $40 per person and $70 per couple. To register, contact Caragh Fitzgerald at 410-313-2707 or cfitz@umd.edu by tomorrow.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority plans to host other seminars next month targeting small-business owners. They include a session on tax, liability and financing considerations and a workshop on entering the global marketplace and marketing. For more information, call 410-313-6550 or visit www.hceda.org/thecenter/events.html. Fees vary.

The Business Technology Law Group is hosting a free seminar on "Employer-Employee Lawsuits: Best Practices to Avoid Employer Liability" from 8 to 10 a.m. Oct. 28 at the Columbia Sheraton Hotel. Register by Oct. 21 at 410-290-0707 or aheine@btlg.us.

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Mail: Howard Extra, 10490 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Suite 650, Columbia, Md. 21044