Verizon Gets Maryland Franchise

The Howard County (Md.) Council has approved a 15-year cable franchise for Verizon Communications Inc.

Officials approved the pact in their Jan. 3 legislative session -- an agreement that will allow the regional Bell operating company to compete with the dominant operator in the area, Comcast Corp.

Howard County is a 271,118-population area 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. However, the franchise will not allow Verizon to reach all of those homes -- the pact is for residences and businesses in the unincorporated areas outside of cities such as the county seat, Ellicott City, and other cities such as Columbia.

Verizon officials said in a statement that rollout plans will be announced soon. According to the county ordinance, the agreement will become effective in March. Verizon must begin serving homes and businesses within three years and be available to an extended service area within seven years. The company has also committed to a free video connection to each public building in the county, such as fire houses and community centers.

Verizon's Internet service, delivered via plant -- which has been upgraded in anticipation of the launch of video services -- is already available to homes in businesses in Columbia and Ellicott City.