Somerville mayor, SCAT fight Verizon at Statehouse

On May 26, 2011, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Mayor Joseph Curtatone gives Testimony against the "Verizon Bill". - Photo by Andrew Firestone

By Andrew Firestone

Mayor Joseph Curtatone appeared before a Joint Committee in the Statehouse last Wednesday, May 18, to voice his disapproval for the “Verizon bill” which he claimed would curtail local authority in negotiating with cable companies, and work to create an unfair advantage to Verizon.

“This bill would allow Verizon to disregard community and government access television and as the home of the nation’s first independent non-profit, community access television corporation, SCAT, Somerville finds this completely unacceptable, as well as you should,” Curtatone said to the Committee of Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy. The Mayor was joined by other City leaders, and supported by Senator John Keenan (D-Quincy), who chaired on the committee.

The bill, also known as Senate bill 1687, was pushed back into the legislature two years after a similar bill was defeated. It proposes a 90-day time limit in negotiations between cities and towns and cable companies in negotiating business for installation and service. Opponents, including Curtatone, called the proposed bill insidious and self-serving, Curtatone saying the ramification would “deepen the divide between rich and poor,” in “driving up property values for the haves while driving down properties values for the have-nots,” as it would allow Verizon greater mobility in choosing where to install wires.

“We do not as municipalities cherry-pick neighborhoods to which we send a fire truck or which neighborhoods get running water and electricity,” said Curtatone. “In this Information Age, we should not cherry-pick which neighborhoods have access to high speed networks and cable competition. Now, this may be a telecommunications bill, but there are still some rather unpleasant social policies working within it.”

Curtatone was supported by Wendy Blom, Executive Director of SCAT, Somerville’s community access television, who said that Verizon, which has successfully pushed legislation in other states, would effectively help destroy SCAT.

“It’s misleading because they say it’s for competition, and they say it’s not going to hurt public access, but when they get their statewide franchising many public access stations have closed,” said Blom. “Now they haven’t been successful doing that in Massachusetts, however they’re trying to whittle down our current laws by limiting the amount of time that cities can negotiate and in this way, they are really keeping the cities from getting the best deal that they can. The city’s deal is our deal.”

Verizon has claimed that the lack of time limits has negatively effected their competition with XFinity, and has caused cities like Somerville to miss out on high-speed FiOS internet for the last several years. “The only thing keeping Verizon out of my city, Somerville, is Verizon,” said Curtatone, who added that if Verizon would reach out, “I’ll do a license in less than 90 days.”

 

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