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Roland Park Civic League to hold public meeting about broadband

VerizonSatellite and Cable ServiceTelecommunication ServiceVerizon WirelessU.S. CongressFederal Communications CommissionStephanie Rawlings-Blake

The Roland Park Civic League has scheduled a public meeting March 14 to talk about options — or lack thereof — for broadband Internet connectivity in north Baltimore.

"There is so little competition and we suffer in price because of that," said league president Phil Spevak. He said the goal of the broadband initiative is to try to convince more providers to bring broadband service to the city, particularly Verizon, which offers FiOS, a high-speed, fiber optic service in Baltimore County, but not in the city.

Verizon has been criticized in recent years by the City Council, Progressive Maryland and other critics, who say the company is dragging its feet because it doesn't like the density and lower incomes of Baltimore's population.

According to Progressive Maryland, Baltimore is the only city in Maryland not yet wired for FiOS.

"Under review is an examination of the existing levels of performance we receive and the cost we pay," the league says on its website, rolandpark.org. "We hope this effort will lead to improvements in broadband services. There will be a comparison to other metropolitan areas."

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Roland Park Presbyterian Church, 4801 Roland Ave. Spevak said representatives from Verizon and Comcast, which does provide broadband service, have been invited, as have city officials. Also expected to attend are representatives of Tuscany-Canterbury, Guilford, Mount Washington and other surrounding communities, he said.

The broadband initiative is an outgrowth of the Greater Roland Park Master Plan, Spevak said.

In preparation for this meeting, residents were asked to take an online survey, a link to which can be found at rolandpark.org. About 250 people have taken the survey, which asked questions such as how satisfied people are with the cost, speed, performance and technical support associated with their home Internet service and whether they think more competition is needed.

"People are frustrated," Spevak said.

The City Council has tried, so far without success, to get Verizon to bring FiOS to the city. In 2010, a non-binding council resolution called on Verizon to bring FIOS here, but Verizon told the city it had no plans to apply for a franchise agreement with the city.

Around that time, Matthew Weinstein, of Abell, Progressive Maryland's Baltimore region and federal issues director, was going around to various community meetings in north Baltimore, trying to drum up support for the FiOS cause.

He called it "a digital divide" issue and said Progressive Maryland was demanding "equal treatment" for Marylanders.

Last July, the Communications Workers of America protested at Baltimore City Hall against a deal between Verizon Wireless and cable companies that they said would hurt the city's chances of ever receiving FiOS.

In a deal with major cable companies nationwide, the telecommunications giant planned to expand its fourth-generation wireless services after purchasing unused wireless spectrum from the cable providers.

Some members of Congress complained to the Federal Communications Commission that the deal might limit competition among companies and drive up telecommunication prices for consumers.

A Verizon Wireless spokesman said the company believed the deal enhanced competition in the wireless and land line business that Verizon competes in against other providers, including cable companies.

The issue is still on Progressive Maryland's mind.

"As far as I know, nothing has changed," Weinstein said March 8. "We did everything we could and we just ran into a brick wall."

"Unfortunately, Verizon has not made any attempt to wire the city with their FiOS network and (Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) has remained silent on the issue," said Jimmy Tarlau, a spokesman for the Communications Workers of America.

Now, it's the Roland Park Civic League's turn to bring pressure on Verizon and other potential broadband providers in the city.

"The real hope here is that out of a community-based effort, it might get the attention of the providers," Spevak said. "Sometimes, transparency helps all by itself."

"When it comes from the grassroots and not from the city, maybe people will start to listen," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents much of north Baltimore.

Spevak said he doesn't know how much power the league has to help bring such change.

"We'll find out," he said.

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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