Verizon leaps into digital TV

EVERETT — Verizon is firing up its FiOS television service in Snohomish and King counties today, offering more than 250 channels and other features.

With today’s kickoff, Washington becomes the 14th state in which Verizon is providing digital television in competition with traditional cable TV.

“Based on consumer reaction in states where we already offer FiOS TV, we expect a huge wave of customers to choose (it) as the better choice to their previous TV provider,” said David Valdez, Verizon’s senior vice president for the Northwest.

During the past two years, Verizon has invested millions to expand its fiber-to-the-home network so that it’s available now to about 80,000 homes in the state. It’s part of Verizon’s investment of $24 billion nationally to make the FiOS network, which also provides digital telephone service and superfast Internet service, available to 18 million homes by 2010.

As it has invested heavily in its new network, Verizon also has added digital television offerings in order to compete directly with the nation’s big cable TV companies. FiOS TV now has 1.4 million subscribers nationally, said spokesman Jon Davies.

Locally, FiOS TV offers more than 250 basic channels and 98 local and national high-­definition channels. Verizon says that’s more HD channels than Comcast offers.

“Our objective is to get every HD channel that’s worth showing out there,” Davies said, adding that FiOS also has a range of video-on-demand offerings and other digital features.

So far, FiOS is available in parts of unincorporated Snohomish County, as well as Everett, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Bothell, Brier and Woodway. Verizon said it plans “rapid expansion” into more communities in the near future.

Customers can begin receiving TV service as soon as they are hooked up. There is a wait, however. Davies said the company exceeded its goal of signing up at least 10,000 FiOS TV customers in advance, so technicians are busy doing hundreds of installation appointments a day.

But in Verizon’s video hub office, located in Verizon’s operations center near Evergreen Way and E. Casino Road in Everett, everyone is ready. On Monday, the small team was monitoring the network and hundreds of channels for any transmission problems. The hub is dominated by huge HD screens showing a galaxy of channels.

Israel Atkins, lead engineer in the video hub, said his team of 10 people has gotten up to speed quickly on monitoring and maintaining the FiOS TV network.

“The goal is to catch things before the customers see them,” he said.

Claudia Sosa, one of the network engineers in the hub, said she’s excited to be part of the new venture after working in other capacities for Verizon during the past three years.

“It’s new, and I think we have the best network. Being part of that is awesome,” she said.

In order to be competitive with its main rival, Verizon is offering its FiOS TV, Internet and phone services bundled together for about $100 a month. There also are extra inducements to customers who sign up by Oct. 4.

That’s similar in price to Comcast’s “triple-play” service. That company, which has been the area’s dominant cable TV and high-speed Internet provider, doesn’t plan to relinquish its lead, said spokesman Steve Kipp.

“Competition isn’t new to us. We’ve been competing for years with satellite companies and with the phone companies for phone and high-speed Internet customers,” Kipp said. He added Comcast has invested heavily to keep its network updated and that Comcast offers more locally based customer service.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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