For the first time since the city of Pittsburgh has had cable service, steps are being made to offer an alternative. City Council hired Cohen Law Group yesterday to contract Verizon Pennsylvania into the mix where Comcast has been the lone cable TV service since 2002. This comes after Verizon showed interest in becoming a competitor in the spring – the first time a competitor has ever done so.

City officials say that it could take years to finish a citywide build-out, but the goal is to have a deal by late fall after several public hearings. The first cable franchise deal was in 1980 with Warner Cable which gave way to TCI in 1984. TCI had an exclusive run for 15-years until merging with AT&T which was later bought out by Comcast. Right now Comcast pays the city 5% of gross annual revenues and officials don’t expect that to change unless pricing wars cause revenues to drop.

Verizon began its cable service last year in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia suburbs after spending two years building a fiber optic network. The company has agreements with 80 southwestern Pennsylvania markets. The company is in the same stage of talks with Philadelphia.

City officials are seeking assurance that 100 percent of the city – including the “poor neighborhoods” would be served. Negotiations will take place to determine where the build-out begins making sure that the decision isn’t based on the income level of the neighborhood.

Verizon offers competative prices with one package offering all local channels, 200 digital channels, HD programming and “on-demand” for $47.99 a month compared to Comcast’s digital package of 177 channels (30 in HD) and “on-demand” for $67.93.