angling for TV market
With a model TV franchise pact in hand for 33 metro
communities, the telecom is likely to call on Denver next.
But some say Qwest just wants to cherry-pick customers.
By Beth Potter, Staff Writer
Monday, June 5, 2006
Now that Qwest has a model television franchise agreement
with 33 Denver metro-area communities, the city of Denver
expects Qwest to come calling.
The model agreement provides the framework by which Qwest
could build a pay TV service that could compete with Comcast
cable TV service. However, the Denver phone company would
still have to negotiate details with each city and town,
including whether it would build its network out to every
house and business.
"I would imagine they would want to approach Denver sooner
in the process, because we have more potential customers,"
said Darryn Zuehlke, director of the city's office of
But Qwest isn't talking much about specifics of its TV
Chuck Ward, Qwest's Colorado president, declined to say
where the telecommunications company plans to go first, how
much it might pay to build new infrastructure, or when it
might get started.
"This (agreement) gives us a chance to compete and presents
consumers an alternative to the incumbent cable providers,"
But Ward did say that Qwest is not willing to build its
network to every house and business in any city where it
Qwest already offers video service in Lone Tree's RidgeGate
subdivision and in Highlands Ranch, where Douglas County
officials are negotiating for $1.75 million in compensation,
saying Qwest did not meet a five-year build-out requirement
Separately, Qwest re-sells DirecTV satellite TV service.
"We're not making a build-out commitment," Ward said. "This
is a competitive market, and there's going to be a lot of
Qwest hasn't talked to any local communities since the model
franchise agreement was passed on May 18 by the Greater
Metro Telecommunications Consortium.
Before that, Qwest had approached Denver, Arapahoe County,
Aurora, Littleton and Parker, according to officials in
those communities. But none of them have yet talked about
specifics of a franchise agreement, officials said.
Philadelphia-based Comcast, which has about 700,000
customers in Colorado, is opposed to Qwest cherry-picking
customers if it goes into a community. Comcast's franchise
agreements in the metro area requires it to provide service
to all customers.
"You're setting in motion a situation where many people in
older and less-affluent neighborhoods wouldn't see the
benefits of competition," said John Aragon, Comcast's senior
director of government affairs in Colorado. "We don't think
the local franchise process is an impediment at all."
Officials in Aurora agree there should be a "level playing
field," said Larry Beer, an Aurora City Council member.
"We're concerned about economic cream-skimming by anyone
coming in and asking for permission to use the public right
of way," Beer said.
Qwest is currently required to get a franchise agreement
with any city in which it wants to operate because of
federal cable regulations. In Congress, several bills are
up for debate that might do away with such local agreements
in the future.
Qwest hopes to reach agreement on issues related to
build-out requirements, spokesman Michael Dunne said.
"Build-out requirements hurt consumers because they stifle
competition," he said.
The economic build-out tussle, and whether it might
discriminate against low-income customers, is an old issue
dating back to Qwest's predecessor US West.
Twelve years ago, US West faced charges from consumer and
civil rights groups over a proposed TV service in the Denver
metro area. Those groups said the plan would divide Denver
by race and income by not building a network in an area that
had minority and lower-income residents.
At that time, US West argued that its plans represented "a
good cross section of the city." US West never followed
through on its local TV plans.
When the new model franchise agreement was approved, the
Rev. Patrick Demmer told the Greater Metro
Telecommunications Consortium he was worried about
low-income neighborhoods not having the same access to
Qwest's new services as higher-income neighborhoods.
"If you're going to wire the city of Denver, you do all the
city of Denver," Demmer said. "You shouldn't be allowed
just to skip over Montbello. Inevitably, there's going to
be some technology that's high-demand, and because people in
Cherry Hills can afford it, they'll get it."
Staff writer Kimberly S.
Johnson contributed to this story.
Staff writer Beth Potter can be reached at 303-820-1503 or