Baltimore checks out broadband possibilities beyond Comcast

Baltimore is a city stuck in the middle many times. When it comes to broadband, its proximity to Philadelphia--Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) hometown--and the nation's capital in Washington, D.C., Baltimore can have a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

City officials apparently brushed that chip off recently by agreeing to pay broadband Internet and community development firm Magellan Advisors $157,000 to study the feasibility of building its own broadband network. The action comes after the city was stiffed by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Fiber, ignored by Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS and stuck with a franchise agreement with Comcast that really puts residents in a broadband bind even if they subscribe to bundled TV-Internet plays.

Chris Tonjes, the city's chief information officer, came to Baltimore from D.C., so he understands the city's angst. He also understands that something needs to be done to keep the city and its residents from becoming an overpaying technology backwater.

"I'm paying more here for lesser service, so I think one of the things we want to do is try to look at that, look at what (current companies) offer and try to incentivize people to offer more," Tonjes told the Baltimore Business Journal. "In the short term, we're going to do a study. In the medium run, we're going to try to renegotiate the cable franchise agreement. In the longer run we want to make it more profitable for providers to come in here and offer expanded service."

Tonjes said that the ultimate goal is just to get someone interested in coming into the city and offering better service and more competition. That someone, he said, could even be Comcast.

"We want to see what we can do to make it reasonable for them," he said. "We also want to see if we can open the door to more competition."

That competition probably won't come from Verizon, which has said repeatedly that it is not building FiOS into any new areas--despite demand.

Earlier this year Verizon officials told North Baltimore residents that they won't be getting FiOS anytime soon, if ever, because, a Verizon spokesman said, "we've not been extending any franchises anywhere in the country."

For more:
- the Baltimore Business Journal carried this story

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