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Phone Company Seeks to Provide Video Services in Six Metro Areas

June 17, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Many East Coast residents could soon have a choice between their local cable or telephone companies when buying video services.

Bell Atlantic Corp. asked federal regulators on Thursday for permission to provide video services in six metropolitan areas on the East Coast. Depending on how quickly regulators act, some areas could get service as early as 1995, said Shannon Fioravanti, a spokeswoman for the regional telephone company.

The plan must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission before Bell Atlantic can begin building the networks to offer consumers broadcast channels, cable programs, shopping services and movies on demand.

The areas covered by the plan are: Baltimore; northern New Jersey; Philadelphia-Delaware Valley; Pittsburgh; Hampton Roads, Va.; and Washington, D.C. The company plans to build facilities in each of these areas at the same time, but could not specify which communities in those areas would be the first to receive service.

About 3 million people should have access to the service within three years of construction. Most communities covered by the plan are served by one cable operator.

Bell Atlantic customers would be charged $8 to $12 a month for a ″basic video connection,″ a coaxial cable line into the home - the same line that will carry telephone service. On top of that, consumers would pay fees for programs, with the exception of local broadcast channels, said Edward Young, Bell Atlantic vice president and associate general counsel.

The fees would be set by companies providing programs over the network, said Young. The systems will have a capacity of at least 497 channels.

The cable industry opposes Bell Atlantic’s efforts to provide video services and has filed petitions to the FCC.

A consumer advocacy group, the Center for Media Education, said it was dissatisfied with Bell Atlantic’s plan. ″What percentage of each community will be served? 100 percent or what? That’s the real problem,″ said Jeff Chester, the organization’s executive director. Consumer groups want the FCC to set rules defining how much of a community must be served.

Service to an entire community, like Arlington, Va., or Wilmington, Del., ″would be our goal,″ said Bell Atlantic’s Fioravanti. ″But the plan is flexible. It will depend on market conditions.″

As Bell Atlantic and other phone companies seek to provide video services, consumer groups are worried that only prosperous areas will be wired for service. Neighborhoods with large minority populations and poor communities may be left out, they contend.

Bell Atlantic said 36.2 percent of the people who would have access to the new service are members of minority groups.

The filing carries through on Bell Atlantic’s previously announced plans to build advanced telecommunications networks, capable of carrying voice, video and data in two directions, throughout its phone territory. The company’s goal is to wire 8.5 million homes to the new service by 2000.

Of the nation’s regional phone companies, Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic is the most ambitious in its efforts to get into the cable television business. Earlier this year, it opened a multimillion-dollar program production and distribution center.

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