Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Candidates Speak

Previously, I mentioned that I would ask each candidate for Mayor or Council of Rockville to provide a statement responding to the question:
Please address why the city has been unable to come to terms with Verizon for FIOS internet and TV service and how your approach would differ.
I am pleased to provide their responses here. Feel free to comment on them. (No mudslinging please!) I also encourage you to visit their websites so you can learn more about them. You may also want to contact the candidates individually for more information. I have provided the websites and email for each candidate below.

I present them in the order that I received them, grouped by mayor and council. Do not stop reading after the first few! They're all worth studying closely.

Some of the statements are a bit casual while others are more formal but in the end I felt that nicely reflected more of each candidate. But for that reason, I feel obliged to show exactly what I sent to each candidate originally.
I write a blog (The Libes Libation) that covers cable and telecommunication issues in Montgomery County and is read by many Rockville voters. I would appreciate if you could provide me with a statement explaining why the city has been unable to come to terms with Verizon for FIOS internet and TV service and whether you believe Rockville's position is correct or how your approach would differ.

I will post your statement on my website along with those of all the other candidates. Please be as detailed as possible. Simply saying "I intend to bring everyone to the table so that we can engage in open and productive negotations" is not compelling. Indeed, there is no easy answer but you should at least be able to explain how you come down on the issues mentioned in this recent statement by the Mayor:
Hopefully, if Verizon were to work with us in good faith, we could bring these matters to a close very soon.

There have been numerous instances across the country of damage done by phone companies (in some instance, Verizon) when laying their new fiber. We also think it would be appropriate for Verizon to pay fees to the city government commensurate with the city government's additional cost of inspecting their work to make sure everything is done properly.

An additional concern that we continue to have, which you need to be aware of, is that Verizon refuses to agree to have all Rockville homes wired within even five years. Even if the city government were to bring these matters to a close with Verizon tomorrow, you could potentially end up waiting another five years or more for Verizon to bring their FIOS service to your street.

We have asked Verizon to agree to have all Rockville homes wired within two to three years, but they have thus far refused to agree to this. We also wanted to make sure that they do not purposefully first wire more affluent neighborhoods, and leave the least affluent for last. Verizon has thus far refused to address this potential concern as well.

Larry
You may also find it useful to browse my blog. Here is the address:
http://www.libes.com/don/blog

I would appreciate a response by November 1. Feel free to email or call if you have any questions.

Thanks
Don Libes



So that was the email that each candidate received. Here are their responses.


Candidates for Rockville City Mayor


Mark Pierzchala, Candidate for Rockville City Mayor
Email: votepierzchala@cs.com
Web: www.votepierzchala.org
Don,

Here is my answer taken directly from my website.

The FiOS technology is superb and would offer numerous benefits to residents for phone, television, and Internet access. However, Verizon has a mixed record of installation elsewhere in Montgomery County including cutting cables and damaging property. In addition, Verizon will not commit to a 2-year schedule for installation everywhere in Rockville (as requested by Mayor and Council), including for example, communities such as King Farm not getting the service for several years. Finally, it appears that Verizon wants a substantial discount on Right Of Way fees published by Rockville in 2003.

I think Mayor and Council are correct to insist on standards for correct installation and to insist on payment of reasonable fees. The City will have numerous costs associated with the installation of the fiber cable including inspection and putting the grid on its GIS system (for maps). These City costs should be covered, otherwise it is a subsidy to a private company. I would not insist on the 2-year installation timeframe; there can be some accommodation here. Mayor and Council recently said that they're waiting for Verizon to come back to Rockville to start talking again. If elected Mayor, I would initiate the discussions and try to come to a reasonable deal.



Drew Powell, Candidate for Rockville City Mayor
Email: drew@votepowell.org
Web: www.votepowell.org
Dear Don,

Thank you for contacting me on this important issue.

As the only mayoral candidate in the telecommunications field, I feel strongly about this issue. It is imperative that Rockville move forward on this initiative with a great sense of urgency.

In the very near future millions homes and businesses throughout the country and the globe will be directly connected to the world’s telecommunications infrastructure (Internet, phone, television, etc.) via high speed fiber optics. Rockville must be a participant in this global telecommunications Renaissance for the following reasons:

Rockville is truly an international city as it is a part of the Greater Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. More than one third of all Rockville residents were born outside the U.S. and many more have international ties. How can Rockville expect to compete on the world market without the infrastructure necessary to do the job? How can we truly be a “world class” city attempting to “make do” with past centuries’ copper connectivity?

Additionally, as gridlock increases on our roads, telecommuting becomes evermore important as a major component in ameliorating our traffic nightmares. The possibility that many office workers, consultants and entrepreneurs can stay off the roads in home offices is essential if we’re to get a handle on traffic and our environment. Keeping people connected and out of their cars can make a big dent in Rockville’s carbon footprint. With its extreme bandwidth capabilities, fiber optics is the one technology that will allow more telecommuting solutions than any copper-based scheme. Office workers would be able to virtually attend meetings anywhere in the world (real-time teleconferencing) and conduct business via network-based applications, while their families enjoy HD television, ultra-clear telephone conversations and high speed Internet. Eliminating commutes and keeping families together will greatly increase Rockville residents’ quality of life.

Lastly, the U.S.A. was built on competition. Arbitrarily preventing competition has never been good for Wall Street, Main Street or your street. Artificially maintaining the status quo of the cable company’s monopoly for high speed access is not in Rockville’s collective and long term interests. Offering citizens high speed telecommunications options will inherently bring down prices and make even better technology solutions available in the future.

It has been stated by my opponent that the current fiber optic provider (Verizon) has been unwilling to work with the City in the deployment of fiber optic solutions. I find this troubling in that most surrounding jurisdictions have had no such problems. As long as Verizon or any telecommunications provider can do its part in putting things back the way they were prior to the installation of fiber, we can move forward with little or no impact to Rockville’s commuters or taxpayers.

There were many more obstacles in building Rockville’s new Town Center than there are in securing a win-win arrangement for the installation of citywide fiber optics. It takes only the will to get the job done.

As Rockville’s Mayor, I will get the job done.

Very sincerely,
Drew Powell



Susan Hoffmann, Candidate for Rockville City Mayor
Email: susan@susanhoffmann.com
Web: www.susanhoffmann.com
Dear Mr. Libes,

I am on record both in City Council meetings and during our candidate forums to be in strong support of competition for Comcast or any of the cable service providers that may come to Rockville. Regarding Verizon specifically, the City has made every attempt to work with Verizon to be a FIOS provider, as long as they agree to abide by the City's requirements as follows:

1. to pay the same cost for the right to provide fiber in Rockville that others [Comcast] have paid
2. to sign our right-of-way agreement so that they will return any roads, sidewalks or private lawns to the condition in which they were found prior to beginning the installation of fiber or cable
3. that they will provide service in a fair and timely way to all of the residents of Rockville, including King Farm, Fallsgrove and our condominiums and apartments

Verizon does not have the best record when it comes to their standards of work during and after cable installation. The work done in the County was often left uncovered at the end of the day, causing driving hazards and significant access difficulties for residents. Verizon has asked for a reduction of the per foot rate as compared to what Comcast paid. They have yet to provide a justification for this request. They won't have fiber to all of Rockville for at least five to seven years. And finally, they refuse to return to the table to continue the dialogue. This impasse has lasted for over a year.

Two weeks ago, I saw the Verizon government relations representative at the Rockville Chamber of Commerce candidate forum. I asked her if I could count on her to meet with the City after the election. She agreed that she would. I am counting on her to keep her word and get the process moving again. I cannot over-emphasize how strongly I feel about the value of competition on the cost we are charged by Comcast for cable. I hope Verizon will be part of the solution.
Best, Susan Hoffmann




Candidates for Rockville City Council


Brigitta Mullican, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: m4council@verizon.net
Web: www.mullican4council.com
If elected to the Rockville City Council, I will want to get the complete details on why the deal with Verizon is not able to move forward. We should not keep Rockville residents as well as surrounding areas from benefiting from competition like Verizon.

If Rockville creates an unfair situation, it might be better for Montgomery County to negotiate for the entire Rockville area. I am concerned that the all the members of the Rockville Mayor and Council have not been provided the complete details on this request. As a Rockville council member, I will demand accurate information be provided to all council members.

I am a strong proponent of competition and want to know why the same deal is not provided to Verizon that was given Comcast. I will listen to all sides of this issue and expect the entire Rockville City Council to have a vote in this decision, but not before all accurate information is provided.

Thank you for asking for my view on the fiber-optic system being available to Rockville.

Brigitta Mullican



Phyllis Marcuccio, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: marcu@erols.com
Web: www.phyllism.org
Dear Mr. Libes,

Please see below the status of the City's issues with the Verizon wireless proposal. I asked our City Manager to give me the current disposition of our negotiating. You can see by the text that follows, we are trying to come to an agreement. I delayed responding to you until I had the facts. Thank you for your patience.

Sincerely,
Phyllis Marcuccio


Phyllis,
Please see below in response to your call of earlier today. I sent this to Brad Roarke's blog.
Hope this helps.
-Scott

Scott Ullery, City Manager
City of Rockville
111 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850-2364
240-314-8102
FAX: 240-314-8130
----- Forwarded by Scott Ullery/RKV on 10/29/2007 01:18 PM -----

Scott Ullery/RKV
10/29/2007 01:20 PM

To: rockvillecentral-owner@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: [Rockville Central] Fee, FIOS, Foe, Fum

The City of Rockville is eager for competitive cable and Internet services to be available to its residents. We continue to negotiate with Verizon on an agreement that would allow the company to install and keep its new fiber optic cables in City streets, sidewalks and other rights-of-way. Among other things, this agreement simply requires the company to obtain necessary and routine permits to undertake construction and conduct its business using City streets, sidewalks and other rights-of-way. The permit process is essential to ensuring the public's property and all community interests are protected. Without the City's oversight, construction projects in the City's rights of way would present a very high risk of seriously damaging City assets, other utility infrastructure, and even private property.

The Mayor and Council have directed that the fees associated with these permits cover the city's costs, so that taxpayers are not, in effect, subsidizing a for-profit commercial enterprise. The normal fees that the City charges for work in the rights-of-way are based on a cost study done by an outside financial firm. For a project of the size proposed by Verizon, there is a great demand placed on City government services among them, permit application review, engineering review, traffic plan review, traffic control, review and oversight of plans for repair and restoration of streets, sidewalks, and any utilities that may be damaged; and inspection of the work as it progresses and upon completion. Verizon has declined to pay these fees and has requested substantial reductions in them. The City has offered a number of alternatives that, we believe, would meet both Verizon's and the City's needs. We are continuing to work with Verizon on these alternatives and hope to make progress soon on these negotiations.

The City also wants Verizon to commit to a faster and more reasonable timetable for rolling out the FIOS service to all residents in the City. Based on Verizon's current schedule, it may take five years or more for service to be provided to King Farm, which is not acceptable.

Scott Ullery, City Manager
City of Rockville
111 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850-2364
240-314-8102
FAX: 240-314-8130



Anne Robbins, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: anner41@hotmail.com
Web: www.re-electannerobbins.com
Thanks for the opportunity to comment. First, this is a matter that needs to be discussed and hopefully brought to a satisfactory conclusion by negotiations involving all members of the new Mayor and Council. I believe it would be counter productive for me, or any of the incumbants, to give detailed positions on the current areas of disagreement between the City and Verizon. There have been real and substanial differences between the City and Verizon and, in my judgment, the past atmosphere for reaching accords has not been very positive for a number of reasons. I believe we should make a concerted effort, as a new Council, to move ahead, in a more positive context, and I feel that is possible. I have heard from a number of my constituents who are supportive of Verizon and I want to give this an opportunity to succeed. Having said that, I can also say that I am a firm believer in the value of open competition for government contracts and arrangements with businesses and corporations, and, I am concerned about fairness and cost impacts on all residents.



Piotr (Peter) Gajewski , Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: candidate@votegajewski.com
Web: www.votegajewski.com
Don,

Competition between service providers is the consumer’s strongest way of ensuring best service at the most competitive price. And so, I do believe that it behooves the City of Rockville to find a way for Verizon to compete with Comcast in Rockville.

I am not privy to the details of the present impasse between Rockville and Verizon but based on what has been reported, I do agree that the City should insist on a firm time frame for Verizon to wire the whole city. What that time frame should be (3 years? 5 years?) remains for me an open question. With respect to what neighborhoods should be wired when, I do not see this as a major issue, as long as there is agreement that all neighborhoods will be wired, and as long as the timeframe to accomplish this is reasonable.

Whether Verizon should pay the full cost of City inspectors is also an open question for me. It is in Verizon’s self interest to do the work in a satisfactory fashion. If it fails in this task (rips up other infrastructure, does not repair roads that it digs up, etc.) it could be subject to legal action. So, to what extent is shadowing Verizon, in order to inspect their work and then charge them for it, really necessary? Again, I am not privy to the details of the present impasse, so it is difficult for me to answer this, but I raise it as a concern.

I would be interested in learning more whether Verizon has a general problem of negotiating deals or whether Rockville is unique (or nearly unique) in their experience. It is a fact that Verizon has managed to enter into agreements with other jurisdictions, so is it possible that Rockville is just a particularly difficult partner? I notice that in recent weeks Rockville came to another negotiating impasse, this time with an artists who was asked to create a piece of art for our new Town Center. Is this just a coincidence, or is it possible that Rockville sometimes takes so principled a stance in negotiations that practical considerations are overshadowed (i.e. we can’t see the forest through the trees)?

If elected, I will want to explore the questions raised above as a road map for returning to the table with Verizon. While certainly no deal is better than a bad deal, in the long run, Rockville residents should not have to accept not having a full scope of services that Verizon can provide and is providing for many of our neighbors. By making Comcast compete with Verizon the services of both companies will be strengthened and Rockville residents will be the real winners.

Peter



John Britton, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: jbritton@schnader.com
Web: www.vote4john.org
Don:

First, I have to say that I DO intend to bring everyone to the table so that we can engage in open and productive negotiations! Having said that, I also submit two other oft-repeated and over-used generalities connected with this issue -- I do not like the monopolistic franchise regime (full disclosure here as I am a disgruntled customer of Comcast) and I would like to see FiOS available to me and everyone else in Rockville as soon as possible.

The discussions, and reasons for delay, are threefold:

1. Infrastructure damage and replacement -- the installation of fiber optic cables necessarily involves the tearing up of City streets, sidewalks and other rights-of-way. The cost of replacement and any other damage as a result of installation should be borne by Verizon. Indeed, I don't think this is an issue as this is the standard operating procedure for any utility's work. I would add that the City and Verizon coordinate such infrastructure work with other utilities as much as possible, so that the same street is not torn up and rebuilt several times in a short time, causing a prolonged disruption in the community. I have seen too many times where one utility performs its work to be followed by another utility in the same right-of-way, where the jurisdiction seemingly could have limited the disruption through permit coordination. This level of coordination may have an impact on the roll-out plan if there is other extensive utility work concurrent with the installation of the fiber optic system.

2. Fees -- I appreciate the City's need to charge a fee that recovers its costs related to the permitting and oversight of the installation of the system. I favor, however, the position that the FiOS system is both a private, for-profit endeavor and a community benefit. After all, we want our City to be a leader, on the cutting edge, in telecommunications. It is good for our City and its residents. Although I need to do more homework on the extent and scope of the fees at issue, I would be more flexible on fees and balance the costs between Verizon and the City on the principle that there are necessary public costs for such a community service. Perhaps this is the essence of the City Manager's recent statement that the City has offered a number of alternatives that may satisfy both Verizon and the City, alternatives that I understand will be discussed in negotiations that will kick in again after the election.

3. Roll-out -- With one condition, I believe leaving it to Verizon and the market for scheduling the roll-out is appropriate. The irony in this instance is that by delaying the implementation to get a better deal on timing for certain customers, we've prolonged significantly the implementation time for all customers. The one condition is to employ all reasonable means to ensure that the rollout is effected equally in affluent and less affluent areas of the City. In the existing politically charged environment concerning equality of services for certain areas of the City, it is prudent to attempt a balanced rollout.

John Britton



Richard Gottfried, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: richgott@erols.com
Web: www.gottfried4council.org
Dear Don,

Thank you for your interest in our opinions as candidates.

With regard to the FIOS issue in Rockville, following the explanations and counter-explanations as presented in the Mayor and Council sessions has been frustrating as complete information does not seem to be available.

Open competition for cable service is something that we need in Rockville, and as your next councilperson I would support engaging in dialogue with Verizon as to how we can bring Verizon service to Rockville. With our continuing focus on making Rockville a high tech, biotech nexus for Maryland businesses, it is imperative that we have the advanced infrastructure and competive service not only for entertainment purposes but to support information technology.

Some issues that will have to be resolved include access to condo and apartment buildings that are contractually obligated to Comcast and the issue of equal access throughout the City. It is troubling to me that alternate reports claim that Verizon FIOS has been installed in other areas of the County at a lesser cost. I don't know yet why that reported cost discrepancy exists.

I would like to bring all the interested parties to negotiation and find out what is the real situation with Verizon. So far, I have heard only one point of view expressed, that of the current Mayor and Council. I would like to hear from Verizon directly as to what is necessary to have a win-win for the citizens of Rockville.

Sincerely,
Richard A. Gottfried



Theo Anderson, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: theo@vote4anderson.com
Web: http://vote4anderson.com/
Don,

I thank you for taking the time to send in your question to me. I do apologize that I did not get back with you earlier, as after work and on the weekends my days and nights are consumed with putting out flyers, going door-to-door and meeting with the residents of Rockville and putting out signs and such. I'm running a grassroots campaign and simply don't have anyone else to do these things for me and don't have a contribution war chest to reach into to send out mailers and such.

While I won't portend to know all the details of the past Mayor and Council's dealing with FIOS, nor all the nuances surround the disagreements and both parties inability to reach an amicable decision that would have benefited the citizens of Rockville, such as myself, who is sick and tired of paying these inflated monthly bills to COMCAST, as a new council member I will definitely have a different strategy in dealing with FIOS.

I can clearly say, competition is good for the consumer and offers choice. Fiber will come to Rockville and WE will have options. I will work with my fellow Council members and the Mayor to bring ALL parties to the table and not let sidebar meetings and single opinions dominate such a serious and far reaching effect decision. I will call upon my mediation skills and coalition building talents to really vett out the issues so that we can get this process moving forward and so relief as soon as possible can be brought to the deserving citizens of Rockville.

I'm for open competition and choice and will be an honest broker for the citizens of Rockville. It's time for a change and I hope that the citizens will honor me with their confidence and trust that I will make that change for them and everyone that has a vested interest in this matter. Thank you for your great question. I encourage you and others who are interested in hearing more about me and my campaign platform issues to visit my web site at www.vote4anderson.com. I would be honored to have your vote on Nov 6, 2007.

Sincerely,
Theo Anderson



Tracy Pakulniewicz-Chidiac, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: electtracy@gmail.com
Web: http://www.tracyforcouncil.org/
Hi Don -

I'm glad you reached out to me to get my opinion on this - it's very important.

I have to say, I personally would love to have a choice in my cable provider and I think bringing Verizon into the City and giving residents choices would be invaluable. However, I would only support that if Verizon can provide assurances that they will not destroy our infrastructure and would compensate for damages and other costs having them install their infrastructure would put on the City. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for poor installation of FIOS.

But ultimately, choices are important and I would hope to be able to bring them to Rockville.

Thanks for your question.

Best,
Tracy



Bob Dorsey, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: bob@votedorsey.com
Web: bob dorsey rockville

No statement received.


Eric (Kuohwa) Wang, Candidate for Rockville City Council
Mail: kuohwawang@yahoo.com
Web: None

No statement received.

7 comments:

joshlubell said...

Don,
Thanks for doing this! Did you get a response from Carl Henn?

Don Libes said...

re: Carl Henn. I was working from the candidate list at the Rockville Chamber of Commerce web site ( http://www.rockvillechamber.org ) and they omitted Carl Henn. That's why there's nothing from him. I just noticed this myself last night and sent him a late request for a statement (and apology). If I get one, I'll add it.

Anonymous said...

Don,

Thanks for your efforts. I still don't understand why the current mayor and council haven't been able to work things out with Verizon.

I also find it very troubling that Hoffman, a current council member and someone who is aspiring to become mayor, hasn't even bothered to respond to you and citizens on this matter. Does she have some connection with COMCAST? With all her money (at least, that's what I read in Wednesday's Gazette), she could have had someone in her campaign submit her position on FIOS to you. Has she been totally non-responsive?

It's pretty clear that if voters want FIOS, they need to vote for someone else.

Do plan to offer your opinion or commentary on the candidates’ responses you've received? Your thoughts would be welcome.

Thanks again!

Really Want Fiber in Rockville

JTRockville said...

Thanks for researching this Don.

Many of the candidates seem willing to pursue a mutually beneficial outcome. For the sake of the residents of Rockville, I hope the new regime can move the fiber deployment forward. FiOS is really worth having!

Anonymous said...

Don,
Your attempt to get informative information from the candidates is awesome! Your recommendation that they not repeat useless chatter was ignored by many of them.
One has to wonder about those that claimed they still needed more time to investigate. Where have they been? Even those that did not answer made a statement.
Thanks for making it easier to pick a candidate...

Anonymous said...

Don:

I live at Avalon at Grosvenor and with any luck I will never see you anywhere. I think I want Verizon FioS because Comcase has done very little for me at a great expense - no les. For an example they charged extra vor a video recorder that I could never get to work and finally I did a Google search that let me know I did not evren have a recorder in my cable box. Yet they charged me for it.

So I want FioS and do not live in Rockville City. Are you going to block the rest of the county too?

Gary

Blademonkey said...

Don, great post, great blog. I'm a long time lurker of your blog, and have been living in rockville for about 10 years. I have see alot of my neighbors lately move to gaithersburg because of the FIOS issue alone (alot = three).

Unfortunately, i may be another one of those stats, since it seems that this issue is unnecessarily filled with red tape. It pains me to read more on this subject and can't help but feel that alot of this chatter is mostly just the candidates talking about it. Some put the onus on Verizon, some put it on the current Mayor.

What i would like to see is the original arrangements that Comcast had to go through and compare that to what they are telling Verizon to go through. If Comcast is already meshed inside of Rockville, it seems like a possibility for FIOS to do so as well. It seems so ridiculous for Larry to propose such strict time contraints for ALL of rockville. It feels like a political block, where he knows that there's NO way that Verizon could deliver the demands and so Verizon ends up looking the bad guy.

It's obvious that Rockville does not understand that it will be loosing citizens to other less 'stringent' cities.