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Verizon to stream UB game on Internet

You can't watch the UB Bulls kick off against Boston College on TV today, but you can see the game on the Internet.

Provided you have a high-speed wire from Verizon.

The phone and Internet company is streaming the game to its broadband subscribers, marking its push to compete with pay TV services.

"This is one more option to traditional TV," Verizon spokesman Cliff Lee said.

The University at Buffalo football game will be carried on the Internet-based ESPN 360 channel, which is available to Verizon high-speed subscribers.

As the speeds of Internet connections to the home increase, industry analysts see a day when Internet video blurs the line with conventional TV. Downloading movies, sports and entertainment programs could be as common as tuning them in.

The UB football game goes hand in hand with Verizon's launch of fiber-to-the-home Internet in Buffalo's suburbs this summer. The service, being sold in parts of Hamburg, West Seneca and Orchard Park, carries data at speeds comparable to a TV signal.

But for most of Verizon's subscribers in the Buffalo area, who lack the fiber optic service called "FiOS," watching the game won't be a TV-like experience.

The copper wire "DSL" Internet service will bring in the game, but at slower-than-TV speeds that relegate it to a PC screen.

Meanwhile, pay TV services aren't standing on the sidelines. Time Warner Cable, the successor to Adelphia's cable system, is negotiating with ESPN for its own lineup of niche college games that appeal to small but loyal groups of fans.

"Right now we have not seen an impact" from Verizon's fiber-optic service, said Steve Jaworowski, Time Warner Cable vice president of marketing communications in Buffalo. "But we also realize it's not going to stay that way for a long time."

Based on FiOS competition in other areas, Time Warner expects Verizon to push hard on price and features, he said. FiOS Internet prices start at $34.95 a month with a one-year contract for speeds of 10 million bits-per-second downstream, more than enough to carry a TV signal.

UB alumnus Willie Evans, a cable subscriber, said he wished he knew earlier about the ESPN 360 broadcast. A season ticket holder, he travels to a few away games each year, with plans to attend a match in Wisconsin next month.

Even for a hard-core fan like Evans though -- who played halfback on the 1958 team that won the Lambert Trophy -- the thought of watching the game on his computer isn't a big draw.

"I would prefer it on the regular screen," the Buffalo resident said. Even if the computer screen was large enough for group viewing, the study where the PC sits would be an uncomfortable spot for more than one viewer, he said.

Fiber-optic subscribers with the right equipment can bridge their Internet stream to a regular TV, as one sports bar in Syracuse did with ESPN 360 games, Verizon's Cliff Lee said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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