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Comcast Takes Over in D.C. Suburb

Comcast Corp. has vowed to improve customer service for 250,000 subscribers in Montgomery County, Md., now that it controls the system.

County regulators approved a transfer from Prime Communications LLC. Comcast had agreed to lend money to-and ultimately buy out-Prime in late 1998 in a deal valued at up to $1.4 billion.

Service was a big issue in the transfer considerations. Regulators raised the minimum fine for franchise violations to $500 from $200. The maximum fine is $10,000.

So far, Comcast has added a call center in Silver Springs, Md., and the staff assisting Montgomery County customers will increase by 40 percent.

The operator also offered to spend $7 million to wire all schools and libraries in the county for cable modems.

The system is in the midst of an upgrade.

Regulators had been talking about access requirements. But the recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that says cities do not have the right to order open access cut short such discussions. The council merely stated that regulators would prefer that cable-modem customers have a choice of primary Internet-service providers.

Meanwhile, in Issaquah, Wash., the City Council approved a franchise for Millennium Digital Media, formerly Summit Communications Inc., to compete with incumbent cable operator AT & T Broadband.

The franchise is in addition to approvals from Seattle, Bellevue and the counties of Snohomish and King. Millennium only operates in parts of those counties.

The competitor already had a private cable agreement to serve a development in the Issaquah Highlands. The franchise will allow the company to extend its 750-megahertz broadband system on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

The company is marketing 70 basic channels, digital tiers-including music-and high-speed Internet access.

And Philadelphia-based Digital Access Corp. said last week that it has won a 15-year franchise agreement from the town of Franklin, Tenn., to provide broadband services. The deal marks the third franchise agreement Digital Access has secured in Tennessee, giving the company access to about 43,000 households in the state.

The company's goal is to eventually pass more than 200,000 households in the state with a broadband network that it plans to build, and to offer cable-television, telephony and high-speed-data services.

In addition to Tennessee, Digital Access plans to build networks in three Midwestern cities with a companywide goal of passing 1.2 million households. Service is slated to begin in the second quarter of next year.

Finally, Pulte Corp., a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based home developer, has crafted a partnership with Cox Communications Inc. of Phoenix that will allow the telecommunications company to deploy its plant in a new, 1,500-unit planned community.

Cox will be able to offer homeowners digital-cable TV, cable-modem service and telephony.