Until now, those dueling Verizon-Comcast cable commercials airing locally have given Pittsburgh residents the perfect time to grab a snack or tend to some other task. When it comes to cable service, they don't have the choice.
Comcast has been the sole provider for cable service within the city limits, but that will change if City Council approves a proposed agreement for Verizon FiOS-TV.
Despite the long wait for cable competition, Council President Doug Shields made the right call when he decided earlier this month to proceed cautiously on this important deal.
The agreement is complex and 46 pages long. It spells out a six-year timetable for installing fiber-optic lines in city neighborhoods and sets deadlines for when various portions of the marketplace should be able to get the service. It details response times for emergency service and for installation.
Still missing is a commitment by Verizon to operate a service center in the city where customers can get face-to-face attention and take in equipment that might be malfunctioning. Verizon's existing service center is in Robinson, too far away for city residents who don't have cars and must rely on public transportation.
The requirement for a service center is a long-standing one; Comcast complies with it. Meeting it should not be difficult. Mr. Shields noted that Verizon doesn't necessarily have to build a free-standing center; for example, he said the company could put service counters in existing businesses, as banks do with branches they operate in supermarkets.
The councilman also wants a commitment in writing from Verizon that it requires all subcontractors to use only documented workers. A six-month investigation last year by the Virginia Pilot newspaper found that many of the workers hired by Verizon subcontractors in that area were in the country illegally. Pittsburgh doesn't want a repeat of that problem.
A public hearing on the proposed contract has been re-scheduled for Aug. 31 and a council vote is expected sometime in September.
Pittsburgh residents could be reaching deep into their wallets for Verizon's service, so it's important for council to make sure the cable competition ends up being a good deal for them.