Dirty Tricks from Verizon and AT&T

Last Thursday, Verizon filed a federal lawsuit against Montgomery County claiming the DC-area county’s franchise approval process violated federal law and the First Ammendment.

According to their press release, Verizon wants the court to force the county to negotiate a franchise in 60 days.

The County says Verizon hasn’t even submitted a formal franchise application. The lawsuit is just “Verizon’s attempt to influence federal legislation,” the chair of the council committee that oversees cable franchises, said. “It is about eradicating the role of local government.”

More dirty telco tricks to bolster a multi-million dollar lobbying spree.

In fact it’s Verizon that has been manipulating the local franchise process to their own ends. At an April hearing on state franchising, Attorney Fred Polner told the Republican House Policy Committee that Verizon was intentionally dragging out local franchise negotiations in order to bolster its petition for legislative relief. Polner represents a consortium of more than 30 Bucks county townships who came together to expedite negotiations with Verizon.

In response to Verizon’s explanation that it’s technically burdensome for them to provide services on a city-by-city basis because their wire architecture doesn’t match municipal boundaries, Polner pointed out that they built their system that way knowing full well that there was a city-by-city franchising process. They made a business decision, he said. It was a bad one and now they want the state (and federal) legislature to save them. (Chairman Civera pounded on him for his strong stance.)

On the market side, Verizon’s playing just as dirty.

Comcast has accused Verizon of intentionally cutting its cables in the same Montgomery county as the latter lays its new fiber optic lines. And Comcast sued a former employee that defected to Verizon, taking sensitive information like subscriber lists, including ‘VIP’ and ‘platinum’ customers. (Platinum must mean you get to complain to a human when you get bad service.)
Verizon has sued Vonage for patent infringement in a case an expert says they’d likely lose except for their deep pockets.

This is all reason enough to hang up on Verizon Wireless, as Jobs With Justice is requesting. The union busting is just the icing on that cake.

AT&T is just as nasty as Verizon – just less prominent in Pennsylvania. They’ve sued towns in Illinois, including Geneva, saying the franchise process doesn’t even apply to them for technical reasons. Read an interview with Pete Collins, Geneva’s Information Systems Manager.

In California, AT&T is petitioning Governor Schwarzenegger to lower the fees Caltrans is charging for rights of way over state-controlled bridges. As with Verizon in Montgomery County, it’s saying Caltrans won’t grant it access, while Caltrans says it will do so immediately if AT&T pays the required fee.

All the more reason to be concerned about AT&T’s proposed merger with BellSouth.

In a related note that will help phone companies by reducing the price consumers pay for their services, the Treasury Department recently eliminated an improperly applied tax on long distance service.

I’m happy about that, since this has historically been a “war tax,” but the IRS is planning refunds of $13 billion and the Treasury Secretary would “not specify how much of the refund might be made to businesses and how much to individuals. He also said Treasury could not yet estimate the size of refund an average individual could expect to get.” And I get kind of suspicious whenever the IRS starts cutting checks to businesses.

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