A decade ago, we wrote about how Verizon had made an agreement in Pennsylvania in 1994 that it would wire up the state with fiber optic cables to every home in exchange for tax breaks equalling $2.1 billion. In exchange for such a massive tax break, Verizon promised that all homes and businesses would have access to 45Mbps symmetrical fiber by 2015. By 2004, the deal was that 50% of all homes were supposed to have that. In reality, 0% did, and some people started asking for their money back. That never happened, and it appeared that Verizon learned a valuable lesson: it can flat out lie to governments, promise 100% fiber coverage in exchange for subsidies, then not deliver, and no one will do a damn thing about it.
Because here we are about a decade later, and basically the same damn thing has happened in New York City. At least this time, Verizon actually had a fiber service to offer — the well-known FiOS — which it “promised” to cover 100% of NYC by 2014. Back when that was announced in 2008, Karl Bode at BroadbandReports correctly warned that you should take that promise with a large grain of salt, both because of Verizon’s past failures to live up to promises, as well as the loopholes hidden in the agreement.
It looks like he was right on both accounts. As the account (linked above) at the Verge notes, the language actually is that Verizon just needs to “pass all households,” which is interpreted loosely:
There were a lot of caveats in the contract, however. Verizon is only required to “pass all households,” a vague term that means the fiber need to extend “to a point from which the building can be connected to the network.” Verizon is not obligated to make that connection, however. As a result, the company is now claiming around 75 percent accessibility, even though the number of New Yorkers who can actually sign up for FiOS is probably much lower. A study by public advocate Bill de Blasio concluded that just 51 percent of households in New York have fiber access. The city and Verizon dispute these figures.
Verizon is blaming landlords, but as the Verge points out, when someone made a big stink on the radio recently about the lack of FiOS in his apartment, Verizon contacted him the very next day, and had service at his apartment within 3 weeks. The simple fact is that Verizon has been trying its damnest to get out of the wired business altogether. Back when Ivan Seidenberg was in charge, he made a giant bet on fiber, which is why Verizon became such a national leader in broadband with FiOS — a service that people really seem to love. However, Wall Street has always hated it, because it’s capital intensive, and Wall St. recognizes that without any real competition in the broadband space, Verizon can avoid investing in such infrastructure upgrades, and just swim in larger profits while America’s broadband infrastructure suffers and falls further and further behind other countries. Once Seidenberg left, the beancounters quickly took over and looked for ways to stop all that investment. Why invest in the future if there are no competitors to push you to do so?
The fact that Verizon had made this big deal with NYC? Well, Verizon knows it doesn’t need to care because it doesn’t appear that the NYC government cares at all. The most telling part of the article at the Verge is this tidbit:
The city seems satisfied with how Verizon has held up its end of the bargain. When asked whether Verizon had met its contract obligations, the mayor’s office first asked The Verge what Verizon had said, then referred us to DOITT [the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications], which actually has the contract. DOITT referred us to the mayor’s office. When told that the mayor wasn’t commenting, DOITT suggested we speak with Verizon. When pressed, a spokesperson said, “We just don’t have anything to add here.”
Nice work, Verizon: you’ve fleeced yet another place.