Franchise agreements between cable providers and municipalities all over the state have long dictated the service offered to a cable subscriber. In Princeton Borough and Township, which currently have such an arrangement with the Franklin Township-based Patriot Media, that agreement was implemented when the two municipalities moved to Patriot after RCN Corp. could not meet its infrastructural agreements.
Now another player appears to be entering the field as Verizon has begun courting the Princetons, and the state, for the right to offer a fiber optic-based service.
Appearing before Borough Council June 6 and on June 12 before Township Committee, Verizon representatives made their case to offer the municipalities a choice in service that, the representatives said, would result in a markdown of prices due to a competitive landscape.
Verizon is also lobbying the New Jersey Legislature to enact laws allowing statewide cable franchises, rather than working per municipal contracts. The legislation already passed both the Senate and Assembly, and is subject to a June 19 vote, again before the Senate, after an amendment was put forth.
The state approval, however, is, according to Gwen Cogan, franchise manager for Verizon Video Services, somewhat of a separate process to receiving any municipal approval. Verizon can still negotiate franchise agreements with individual municipalities. Of particular concern among members of both the Borough and Township governing bodies is whether Verizon would be able to provide the same level of public access, or Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) channels now offered in the Princetons.
Currently, there are six PEG channels available to Princeton cable subscribers: Mercer County Community College; Princeton University; Princeton Community Television; Princeton Borough; and Princeton Township.
"We are really used to a tremendous amount of public access channels," said Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand Monday night. Ms. Cogan, however, said that while typically two PEG channels are required in franchise agreements, it could be increased to higher numbers like those found in Princeton.
Verizon is scheduled to continue its public hearing with Princeton Borough at an as yet to be determined date in July, and the Township is scheduled for a second hearing July 17.
Officer Scott Walter of the Princeton Township Police Department worried about working with Verizon when emergency notices need to be issued; he also pointed out the possible extra "burden" of providing emergency notices to two separate cable operators. Ms. Cogan said Verizon would seek an interconnection agreement with the incumbent provider, in this case, Patriot Media, to provide public access and emergency noticing.
Jim Holanda, president of Patriot Media, said he welcomed the prospect of competition, but said that the statewide negotiations have resulted in stipulations that require a built-out fiber infrastructure for the 60 most dense New Jersey municipalities, including Princeton Borough, but not Princeton Township. Mr. Holanda also reinforced the concern that Verizon may not provide as many PEG channels.
Anna Lustenberg, Verizon director of external affairs, said full deployment for fiber-based systems is more difficult than cable, but that Verizon service, if allowed to compete, would eventually provide service to the entire municipality.
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