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When It Comes To Some Technology, We Need To Slow Down

The Verizon Franchise Deal Could Hurt Small Towns and Urban Communities

Technology is power, but it can have both economic and social consequences. Technology-based businesses have become a fast growing commodity and a very lucrative industry around the world. Verizon has become one of the largest providers of communications services worldwide.

Currently, Verizon is profiting from the telephone, cellular phone and broadband internet connection services that it provides to New Jersey customers, and the company is hoping to increase its profits by expanding into a cable television service. I worry that Verizon’s efforts to bring a high-tech television service to New Jersey will discriminate against the poorer communities and hurt them financially.

Verizon is pushing hard for statewide approval of its technological advancement of selling a form of cable television services over new high speed fiber network. The Verizon fiber optic television service seems to be a positive advance in communications and would create more competition for traditional cable companies like Comcast and Cablevision. Unfortunately, just below the surface, I see the potential harm that the expansion of services provided by Verizon may have on the poorer communities in New Jersey.

I have some concerns with the fallout that will ensue if Verizon persuades my colleagues in the State Legislature to support Verizon’s request to expedite the approval process for obtaining a cable television franchise. Verizon is looking for permission to streamline the television franchise process in more than 500 towns where Verizon’s phone service is already offered. Verizon wants a single statewide approval to proceed in every community so it does not have to negotiate more than 500 separate contracts.

Verizon contends that, without the franchise agreement, the process of getting approvals from each town would take too much time. I believe that there does not need to be such a rush and that we need to slow down and evaluate the situation. I want to be sure that we choose the best option for the residents of New Jersey, and not simply line the pockets of big business.

Currently, cable companies pay about $20 million in town franchise fees each year, which are used by municipalities for property tax relief. With the current property tax crisis in New Jersey, we need to find ways for municipalities to gain more revenue without imposing a further burden on property owners. Companies like Verizon can afford to work with each municipality and ultimately help provide additional property tax relief.

Verizon’s proposal would only provide the funds that go towards additional property tax relief to towns with a high number of subscribers. A significant part of the urban community can not easily afford expensive pay cable services and would not be able to benefit from the offer. Verizon said it plans to wire 70 communities in 10 counties, but, so far, areas such as Newark and Camden have not been connected to the fiber optic system. This discriminates against poorer communities where added funds are greatly needed.

I also have concerns about whether the revenue collected from Verizon in a franchise deal would go directly to the local government or if the State would take the lump sum and distribute it to the individual communities.

I am also worried that our municipalities will no longer have control over where the service is offered in each town, and how many public access channels will be available. Only municipalities understand the needs of the individual residents, but a statewide approval would take away their ability to negotiate an agreement which meets specific local needs.

On June 15th, the League of Municipalities will host a special meeting in Lawrenceville with the executives from Verizon, cable representatives, and state legislators to discuss the franchise proposal. I am eager to find answers to my concerns. At this point, I cannot support Verizon’s proposal unless I am convinced that the residents of New Jersey, including those in the poorer communities, will benefit.