TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Verizon's TV Licensing May be Only Half the Fight

Verizon's TV Licensing May be Only Half the Fight

Ritsuko Ando, Reuters/VNU (
Mon, 3 Jul 2006 13:42:58 -0500

By Ritsuko Ando

Verizon Communications Inc. looks increasingly impatient to roll out
its Web-based television service nationwide, suing a Maryland county
last week for hampering its entry, but getting licenses may only be
half the battle.

Analysts say that while Verizon's state-of-the-art fiber optic network
allows multiple channels of high-definition video and faster
downloading, the phone company must show more proof that its
multibillion-dollar investment is worthwhile.

Verizon will not say how much it is spending on the Internet protocol
television service, named FiOS, on which it is banking to win back
customers lured away by cable operators' "triple play" of Internet,
phone and video bundles.

But analysts estimate Verizon is spending around $700 to $1,000 per
customer, double the spending of rival phone company AT&T Inc. and
spooking shareholders.

"The market hates Verizon's level of capital expenditure, although you
could say it's a necessary evil," said Kent Custer, an analyst at
A.G. Edwards & Sons.

Even after a recent recovery, Verizon shares are still down around 2
percent over the past year, while AT&T is up about 19 percent.

Verizon says its investment will pay off as demand grows for
high-quality video, speedy downloading of movies and interactive
television and gaming -- in short, having more computer-like

"This is a once-in-a-century network upgrade," said Shawn Strickland,
head of Verizon's FiOS TV product line.

"TV is the growth opportunity and FiOS is the best platform for that."

Verizon launched FiOS TV last September in Keller, Texas. Short for
Fiber Optic Service, it is still available only in some communities in
California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and
Virginia. It also offers high-speed Internet access through fiber in
15 states.

Showing it is serious about expanding, Verizon said last Thursday it
is suing Maryland's Montgomery County, a stronghold of cable operator
Comcast Corp., for allegedly imposing "unreasonable and illegal"
conditions for a television subscription license.


Verizon is not alone in plotting a counter-attack against cable. AT&T
is also launching its own Web-based TV service.

But while Verizon is connecting fiber optic cables directly to
customers' homes to optimize bandwidth, AT&T is making use of existing
copper lines and as a result spending only around half as much on
fiber, analysts say.

"Verizon's network is clearly superior if you believe consumers want
the high-definition video. But I have a feeling they're spending more
than they'd like to," said Albert Lin, analyst at American Technology

"The question is, how different is FiOS to cable?"

At first glance, at least, there is little difference. The equipment,
such as the set-top box and remote control, are largely similar to

Moreover, programming and prices are alike. Most FiOS customers who
take triple play packages pay around $100 a month, similar to cable
operators' bundles.

Verizon says FiOS has the capacity for more interactive features. For
example, in the future, a customer may be able to click on a pizza
advertisement on the television screen and make an order. Friends may
also use the TV to talk to other friends via videolink or email.

For now, however, analysts say the main advantages are incremental
rather than revolutionary, such as quicker downloads and higher
quality video.

Verizon's Strickland said those benefits were enough to win strong
customer satisfaction, and one in four households in the first market,
Keller, have signed up for FiOS.

Analysts said timing was also crucial for FiOS, especially as data
show customers are less likely to switch providers once they have
subscribed to the all-in-one packages offered by the likes of Comcast,
Time Warner Inc.'s cable unit and Cablevision Systems Corp.

"The outcome may not be based on technology alone but also on time to
market -- who gets the customer first," said Richard Siderman,
managing director at Standard & Poor's.

The timing of FiOS' nationwide launch, however, depends in part on how
soon counties and states grant licenses. Thursday's lawsuit aside,
Verizon is also hoping lawmakers in Washington will approve a bill
that would allow it to apply for a nationwide TV license instead of
negotiating with each city.


Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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