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Verizon Racks Up Video Franchises

Verizon Communications Inc. established some big-market footholds last week for its FiOS TV service, but also stubbed a toe publicity-wise over political lobbying efforts to support the fiber-based TV service in New Jersey.

The regional Bell operating company announced the first FiOS TV rollout in New York state, with service now up and running in Massapequa Park, a Long Island community of 17,000 residents where Cablevision Systems Corp. is the incumbent. It also put its first FiOS TV service stake in Massachusetts ground, unveiling service to the 37,000 people in Woburn, a suburb north of Boston in Comcast Corp. territory.

And in Reading, Mass., the Board of Selectmen voted Jan. 27 to grant Verizon a cable franchise to offer the service to its 23,000 residents.

Verizon also signed a franchise agreement in the Tampa-area community of Hillsborough County, Fla., where it would compete against Bright House Networks, according to a report in the Tampa Tribune.

The phone provider gained another key market in Falls Church, Va., up against Cox Communications Inc. The city council there approved Verizon’s cable franchise agreement to offer service to the community of 10,900. Verizon already has franchise approvals in Fairfax County and other Northern Virginia areas, in all covering some 1 million residents.

Marketing for the FiOS TV and Internet services has ramped up to support the rollouts, including temporary stores — called “pop-up” stores — set up during the holidays at several New York-area shopping malls. It also includes FiOS ads on pizza boxes and take-out Chinese food containers, in partnership with area restaurants. Said Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey: “It’s the whole idea that you are really battling for consumers a community at a time, a neighborhood at a time, a market at a time.”

But in New Jersey, the telco’s lobbying efforts to revise the state’s 33-year-old cable TV franchise law ran into trouble last week.

On its Web site, Verizon allows visitors to send an electronic fax message to their mayor or local legislator urging a statewide franchise in place of the current law that requires franchise approval from each community.

Last week, Red Bank, N.J., Mayor Edward McKenna Jr. claimed he had received more than 200 such letters on his fax machine some time last fall — and subsequently found 100 of them had come from bogus addresses.

Verizon disputed the number of possibly bogus letters at issue, blaming a computer glitch. Still, a state legislator submitted a resolution in the Assembly urging an investigation into possible mail fraud.