Verizon to the FCC: Make cable play nice

Verizon wants the FCC to force the cable industry to allow people to switch video providers as easily as people switch phone service.

Verizon Communications is asking the Federal Communications Commission to force cable operators to streamline their process for allowing people to switch video providers.

In its petition with the FCC filed on Wednesday, Verizon said that cable operators require customers to contact them directly when they want to cancel service, which often leads to more work for the new video provider and confusion for the consumer.

By contrast, the phone companies have been required to have procedures in place that enable a new provider to submit a voice disconnection order on behalf of the consumer.

"This significantly complicates the process of switching video providers, thereby entrenching the cable incumbents' dominant market position," Verizon said in the petition.

Verizon thinks a ruling by the FCC is needed to "establish parity in the processes for cancelling telephone and video services." Verizon sees the cable companies' reluctance to expedite the cancellation process as an attempt to discourage people from switching providers, which ultimately hurts competition.

But the cable industry says that Verizon's complaints are unfounded.

"Verizon's fairy tale complaint is a lame attempt to deflect criticism from its years-long illegal practice of misusing proprietary information to prevent consumers from switching to a new phone provider," Brian Dietz, vice president of Communications for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said in a statement. "This is yet another example of Verizon looking for a regulatory handout to help them compete, rather than focusing on a customer-friendly approach to providing--or switching--service."

AT&T and Verizon have been spending billions of dollars to upgrade their networks they can offer a triple play package of services to consumers that includes telephony, broadband, and TV service. And they've started to gain traction in areas where their TV service is available.

The cable industry has also been competing on the phone companies' turf with its digital voice services that replace traditional phone lines. It's also getting good traction selling this service as part of a bundle and has been stealing millions of customers from the phone companies.

Verizon's petition comes as the two largest cable operators in the U.S., Comcast and Time Warner Cable supposedly discuss financially backing a new company formed by combining Sprint Nextel's WiMax division and the WiMax operator Clearwire, according to news reports.

WiMax, which provides more bandwidth than current 3G cellular technology, is one of two main 4G wireless technologies that will likely be deployed in the U.S. These networks will not only allow cell phones to connect to the Internet, but they will also connect other consumer electronic devices like digital cameras, music players and gaming devices.

A partnership between the cable companies and Sprint and Clearwire could help the companies develop an integrated wireless service that would compete with Verizon and AT&T, which own their cellular networks.

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