As I predicted, the Verizon franchise was approved on Tuesday (November 28, 2006). With the full council present instead of just three MFP committee members, the same questions were asked; the same responses were given. The very same responses were also given to new questions. For example, one councilmember asked how Verizon was able to buy out of the unlimited future obligations to provide free access to many agencies that Comcast is required to do.
Here's my paraphrase of that interchange between Jerry Pasternak, Special Assistant to the County Executive and Councilmember Steve Silverman:
Steve: I can understand that Verizon bought us off, but 1 million? My dog could've come up with that number.
Jerry: < insert handwaving here >
Steve: As long as you're not going to explain how you came up with that obviously arbitrary figure, can't we bleed them for more?
My paraphrase of Jerry's response is terse but otherwise accurate. His actual words were remarkably close to those that I quoted on Monday so I won't repeat them.
And with that ("that" meaning 10 minutes of decent discussion and 30 minutes of unnecessary hot council air and protocol), the franchise was passed. No last minute amendments. Unanimous.
I've heard conflicting statements as to when it would be possible to order service. A Gazette article appears to suggest that, although approved, the franchise has yet to be signed by the council president but availability should follow immediately. The Verizon's press release says "by the end of December." The latter makes the most sense. However, availability will be rolled out in stages across the county with requirements for some areas on the order of years. For instance, as I understand the section applying to Rockville, even if they get approval from the City, Verizon has three years to offer service there. And if the issue isn't settled by the end of this year, the limit is pushed back to four years. (If the final franchise is different, I'll correct this as soon as I find out.)
Of course, these are just limits and, while legal, will probably be moot in the future. For example, the county could let Verizon take longer if things don't go well (RCN being an example of this). Alternatively, Verizon could act more quickly on its own. For now, Verizon promised availability to 75,000 homes as of January 1 2007 and asserted that they would have the staff - including bringing personnel from other regions - to deliver on that promise. Of course, that presumably refers only to the Initial Service Area described in the franchise. As for actually getting TV service installed - according to Lori Edwards' testimony, the franchise allows seven days for the installation of an ONT at the house and seven more days to turn on the service. So unless you have Verizon's internet service already, you can expect to wait a while from your initial service call.
Let the Discounts Commence
Earlier, I had said (incorrectly) that Verizon's internet service required an annual plan. I was wrong but the price is significantly higher for a monthly contract - so high that few people will get it. For instance, Verizon charges a $69.96 installation fee for monthly subscribers; for annual subscribers, the installation fee is $0.
If that seems an unconvincing come-on, I recently received a flyer: $15/month off for 3 months on an annual contract for Verizon's 15/2 service. This brings the price down to that of their lowest-speed service, which you can switch to at any time without penalty (e.g., after the 3 months is over). Think of it as a come-on to experience their higher-speed service for awhile at no extra charge.
On the downside, you're still obligated to a pay a $19.99 activation fee as well as being subject to a $99 early termination fee should you decide not to go the full year.
Will Verizon roll out more discounts come January 1? Undoubtedly they will offer something similar to what Comcast is doing - a triple or quadruple play offer. I'll have more to say about this as the promos roll by over the weeks ahead.
Of course, rates aren't everything. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how quickly Comcast responds.