Moving quickly to cash in on a new state law, Verizon Communications Inc. started offering pay-television service Friday in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and 10 other Southern California cities.
The dozen cities, plus unincorporated areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, are the first to get paid programming under a law aimed at easing the entry of phone companies into the pay-TV market.
Verizon already sells its pay TV under the FiOS, or fiber-optic service, brand in 17 Southern California cities and parts of Riverside County under local contracts negotiated separately before the law took effect this year.
The new communities raise to 350,000 the total number of Southern California homes within reach of Verizon's new fiber-optic network. The company said it expected to reach 500,000 by the end of the year.
"From our perspective, this is a real exciting development for consumers, something we've been working on over time," said Timothy J. McCallion, the company's Pacific region president.
Not everyone in the dozen cities will be able to order television service immediately because the company hasn't yet finished installing all its fiber-optic lines.
For instance, it has finished 80% of the installation in Huntington Beach but only 20% in Long Beach, the biggest city in its region. Verizon is the dominant local phone company primarily in the affluent beach communities from Santa Barbara through much of Orange County.
Through the end of December, Verizon had 207,000 pay-television customers in more than 200 cities in 10 states.
Verizon's chief competitor is Time Warner Cable Inc., which has come under fire from customers and cities for service problems. The troubles stem from Time Warner's effort to integrate properties acquired last summer from Comcast Corp. and bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp.
More than 10,000 of Time Warner's 1.9 million areawide customers have quit, some switching to satellite television and some to Verizon's FiOS service.
But the nation's second-largest cable TV provider said it wasn't worried about the new competition.
In Huntington Beach, where the companies compete head-to-head, Time Warner hasn't seen "any perceptible loss" of broadband customers since FiOS Internet service was launched there, said Time Warner spokeswoman Patricia Rockenwagner.
"And we've added a good amount of phone customers to our digital phone service over the past 18 months," she said.
McCallion, however, said Verizon had been doing well in areas where it offers its FiOS Internet and pay-TV services. Nationwide, the company said, it expected eventually to garner 30% of the pay-television market it serves.
"When customers have the option of adding video services to their bundle, it's just one more reason to move over to FiOS," he said.
In addition to Long Beach and Huntington Beach, Verizon is offering FiOS TV service in Chino, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Lakewood, Montclair, Pomona, Santa Monica, Stanton, Torrance and Westminster.
AT&T Inc., the state's dominant local phone company, also is building a high-speed network to deliver pay television, under its U-verse brand. The service is running only in four Northern California cities, and AT&T is awaiting approval from state regulators to begin offering it elsewhere.