Verizon Executive Touts Senate Video Choice Bill

WASHINGTON - Predicting it will lead to "direct, tangible benefits to consumers," including greater "video choice" and significant reductions in monthly cable television bills, a top Verizon executive today urged the U.S. Senate commerce committee to approve telecommunications reform legislation sponsored by the panel's chairman and the ranking minority party member.

But the executive - a former member of Congress - expressed concern that efforts to add controversial Internet regulations to the bipartisan proposal could endanger its passage, costing consumers more than $8 billion a year in lost cable savings.

Testifying at a hearing on the Communications, Consumer Choice and Broadband Act of 2006, Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, said the bill would spur competition by reforming the television franchise process that currently delays the market entry of insurgent providers like Verizon.

Verizon is deploying the fastest fiber-optic network in the nation over which it currently offers a better alternative to cable television in 50-plus communities in seven states. But company plans to serve as many as 20 million television viewers by 2010 could require thousands more local franchises, a potentially daunting task given that individual negotiations with local authorities can take up to two years.

Calling the decades-old franchising system "a big impediment to our rapid entry into the video marketplace," Tauke said it can "interject an element of uncertainty that casts a shadow over our capital investment plans."

Cable companies currently dominate the nation's subscription television market and have sued local units of government to slow franchise proceedings for new entrants.

Citing Bank of America figures, Tauke said that, where Verizon FiOS TV has been allowed to compete with cable, consumers have seen their bills go down as much as 40 percent and now enjoy "a superior video service to cable" and the fastest Internet links available.

"These consumer benefits should not be delayed while we define and debate other issues," such as controversial net neutrality Internet regulations, Tauke said. "Simply put, net neutrality legislation endangers both the future of video choice and the accelerated broadband investment that is just beginning to gain traction.

"Radical net neutrality proposals would chill the investment climate for broadband networks, deter and delay broadband rollout, and lock in today's Internet architecture and levels of performance," he said. "Now is not the time to adopt new regulations that throw sand in the gears of the fast-growing and changing broadband marketplace."

Specifically, such Internet regulation could "prohibit us from offering customers the unique and secure platform required for next-generation services" and "prohibit us from offering a competing video service to consumers," Tauke warned. "That isn't good for consumers, and that isn't good for the nation."

Saying that last year's Federal Communications Commission policy statement recognized that it would be premature to impose Internet regulations in the absence of a real problem, Tauke said the telecommunications reform legislation takes a "sensible approach" to the polarized net neutrality debate. It instructs the commission to monitor the marketplace and provide information to Congress and consumers regarding the need, if any, for Internet regulations. This would "allow policymakers to address any market failures, if they were to occur, without the adoption of broad, anticipatory regulations that curb innovation and broadband deployment," Tauke said.

Likening it to a highway "with 10 decks, each with 100 lanes," Tauke said Verizon's fiber-optic, FiOS network offers the "fastest Internet access" in the marketplace "capable of delivering speeds of 100 megabits and beyond." He said such plentitude will be required to enable "the widespread availability of such innovations as home health care monitoring and diagnosis, online education, telecommuting, and communications services for the disabled."

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), a Dow 30 company, is a leader in delivering broadband and other communication innovations to wireline and wireless customers. Verizon operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 53 million customers nationwide; one of the most expansive wholly-owned global IP networks; and one of the nation's premier wireline networks, serving mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Based in New York, Verizon has a diverse workforce of more than 250,000 and generates annual consolidated operating revenues of approximately $90 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.