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N.Y. Public Service Commission Reminds Verizon of Its FiOS Obligation in NYC, Requests Documents

Zibelman

Zibelman

After the N.Y. Public Service Commission heard an earful about Verizon’s broken promise to deliver FiOS service to every resident in New York City, the head of the PSC has sent a letter to Verizon reminding them of their obligation and requesting an explanation:

At a recently conducted July 15, 2015 Public Statement Hearing held in the City of New York in the matter of the Study on the State of Telecommunications in New York State […] citizens of the City expressed concern over the pace of Verizon New York Inc.’s (Verizon) Fiber-to-the Premises (FTTP) build-out. Some of the commenters stated that they called Verizon to find out when FiOS would be available in their building and the Company could not provide a specific date or time. Others asked why some buildings had been wired for FiOS while others were still being served over the copper network.

Among the Commission’s minimum requirements and terms included in the approval of Verizon’s cable franchise agreement with the City, is the requirement to complete upgrading its wire centers to video serving offices (VSO) and have its FTTP network “pass all households served by [Verizon’s] wire centers within the Franchise Area” 1 by no later than June 30, 2014.

Audrey Zibelman, chair of the PSC, acknowledged Verizon’s repeated explanation that building owners have often been reluctant to let Verizon engineers into their buildings to initiate the FiOS upgrade, noting Verizon has filed more than 45 petitions for Order of Entry with the PSC over the past two years, identifying over 3,000 buildings with “access” issues of one type or another. Approximately 50% of the building access problems have been identified in Manhattan; about 20% each in Bronx and Queens; 13% in Brooklyn, and the rest in Staten Island and Long Island.

dpsBut Zibelman assumes at least some of those disputes have since been settled and now wants details about where Verizon is still unable to offer FiOS in New York City and why. She also wanted to make sure Verizon was not favoring certain areas over others for fiber service:

The agreement also provides that Verizon will conduct the build-out in a way that will prevent redlining, or discrimination based on income, by requiring Verizon to build-out simultaneously to all boroughs and in a manner relatively proportionate to household income. Specifically, the median household income of all homes passed shall not be greater than the average household income of all the households in the City.

fios“Indicate whether Verizon has achieved its six-year build-out in the cable franchise agreement,” Zibelman asked. “If Verizon has not achieved that build-out, please provide all documentation that Verizon provided to the City to justify the basis for any delay. In addition, please provide a current status of the FTTP build-out, by Borough, indicating the percentage and number of buildings served, and the remainder of buildings yet to be served. Provide a status update of the buildings identified in previous Verizon petitions for Orders of Entry.”

Zibelman reminded Verizon it has an absolute obligation under 16 NYCRR §895.5 to “provide service to any customer upon request.” To verify that, Zibelman wants Verizon to accept and record all requests for service and respond to all of her concerns within 14 days.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WNBC NY Verizon FiOS Not Installing High-Speed Internet for 25 Percent of NYers Who Want It Audit 7-15-15.flv

WNBC in New York reports a quarter of New Yorkers still cannot sign up for Verizon FiOS, despite a commitment from the company to wire the entire city. (2:01)

Cable’s Fiber Fears: Broadband Market Share Drops to 40% or Less When Fiber Competition Arrives

The magic of fiber

The magic of fiber

Ever wonder why Comcast, one of the strongest defenders of classic coaxial-based cable technology, is suddenly getting on board the fiber-to-the-home bandwagon? New research suggests if they don’t, their market share could fall to 40% or less if a serious fiber competitor arrives.

“There’s some sort of magic associated with fiber,” John Caezza, president of Arris’s Access Technologies division, told Multichannel News. “Everyone thinks it’s better than [cable technology].”

The risks to the cable industry are clear: be prepared to upgrade or face customer losses.

Craig Moffett of Moffett Nathanson has never been a cheerleader for fiber to the home service. In 2008, Moffett vilified Verizon for its investment in a major fiber upgrade we know today as FiOS to replace its aging copper infrastructure, complaining it was too expensive and was overkill for most residential customers. He was more tolerant of AT&T’s less-costly fiber to the neighborhood approach, dubbed U-verse, that still used traditional telephone lines to deliver service into the home. Because U-verse did not need AT&T to replace wiring at each customer location, the cost savings were considerable. But the cost-capability compromise left AT&T with a less robust platform, with broadband speeds initially limited to a maximum of around 24Mbps.

While phone companies like AT&T and Verizon were saddled with the enormous cost of tearing out decades-old obsolete phone wiring to varying degrees, the cable industry seemed well positioned with a mature, yet still recent hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) platform that was upgraded in the 1990s in many cities. While still partly reliant on the same RG-6 and RG-11 coaxial cable used since the first days of cable television, cable companies also invested in fiber optics to bring services from distant headends to each town, removing some of the copper from their networks without the huge expense of bringing fiber all the way to customer homes.

For Moffett, it was the cable industry that had the network with room to grow without spending huge amounts of capital on upgrades. He has touted cable stocks ever since.

Moffett

Moffett

What worries Moffett now isn’t Google, Frontier, CenturyLink, or even Verizon. He’s concerned about AT&T.

As part of its commitment to win approval of its merger with DirecTV, AT&T promised regulators in June it would expand AT&T U-verse with GigaPower — AT&T’s gigabit fiber to the home upgrade — to at least 11.7 million homes, nine million more than it has ever promised before. Comcast has a 32% overlap with AT&T U-verse, compared to Time Warner Cable (26%), Charter Communications (32%), Bright House Networks (25%) and Cox Communications (25%). Comcast had promised faster broadband with the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 beginning as early as next year. But the company isn’t willing to wait around to watch AT&T and others steal its speed-craving customers. This spring, it promised 2Gbps Gigabit Pro fiber to the home service to customers living within 1/3rd of a mile of the nearest Comcast fiber line.

Some in the cable industry complain Google’s huge marketing operation has saddled cable broadband with a bad rap — ‘it’s yesterday’s news, with Google Fiber representing the future.’ The marketing war has been largely won by Google, they say, leaving consumers convinced fiber is the better and more reliable technology, and they need it more than the cable company.

Cable’s defense is to consider some marketing changes of its own — including the idea of dropping the name “cable” from the business altogether, because it implies older technology. But despite any name change, most cable companies will continue to rely on HFC infrastructure for at least several more years, despite claims they are bringing their own middle mile fiber networks closer to customers than ever. Cable operators now serve an average of 400 homes from each cable node. Some cable companies like Comcast plan to cut the number of customers sharing a node to around 100-125 homes, which means fewer customers will share the same broadband connection. But in the end, that will make cable comparable at best to a fiber to the neighborhood network, still hampered to some degree by the presence of legacy coaxial copper cable. The industry believes most consumers will never see the limitations, and for those that do, a limited fiber buildout with a steep installation fee may keep costs (and demand) down to those who need the fastest possible speeds and are willing to pay to get them.

CableLabs_TaglineThat philosophy may still cost cable companies customers if a fiber competitor doesn’t have to compromise speed and performance and can afford to charge less.

The top 10 U.S. cable companies currently account for 60% of the residential broadband market and 86% of all broadband net additions in the first quarter of 2015, says Leichtman Research Group.

Moffett predicts cable broadband will only capture 40% of share in markets where it faces a fiber to the home competitor (Google, EPB, Greenlight, Verizon FiOS), 55% in markets served by a fiber to the neighborhood competitor (U-verse, Prism), and 60% where the competition only sells DSL (most Frontier, Windstream service areas). Nationwide, AT&T’s newest gigabit fiber commitment could cost the cable industry 2.4% of the whole residential broadband market, Moffett said.

Phil McKinney, president and CEO of CableLabs, believes DOCSIS 3.1 — the next standard for cable broadband — can easily stand toe to toe with fiber to the home providers.

McKinney

McKinney

“I think it [HFC] has tremendous life, and we are going to be riding it all day long,” Werner said. DOCSIS 3.1 “is definitely going to be our go-to animal. Due to ubiquity, we can go out and virtually serve all of our [customers] very quickly.”

Cable companies claim their speed increases reach all of their customers in a given area at the same time without playing games with “fiberhoods” or waiting for incremental service upgrades common with Google Fiber or AT&T’s U-verse. Customers, the industry says, also appreciate DOCSIS upgrades bring no service disruption and nobody has to come to the home to install or upgrade service.

“The cable industry has more fiber in the ground than each fiber provider in the world,” McKinney argues. “If you look at total fiber strand miles, there’s more fiber under management and under control of the [cable] operators than anybody else combined.”

That may be true, but Moffett thinks it is only natural shareholders may eventually punish the stocks of cable operators that will face competition from AT&T’s U-verse with GigaPower. There is precedent. Cablevision serves customers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey and faces fierce competition from Verizon FiOS in most of its service areas. That competition has been brutal, occasionally made worse in periodic price wars. What may be protecting cable stocks so far is the fact AT&T competition will only affect, at most, 32% of the impacted cable operators’ service areas.

AT&T’s gigabit network has also proved itself to be more press release than performance, with very limited availability in the cities where it claims to be available. Verizon FiOS, in contrast, is widely available in most of Cablevision’s service area.

Still, Comcast is hoping it can hang on to premium customers who demand the very fastest speeds and performance with targeted fiber.

“Gigabit Pro is really for those customers who have got extreme needs,” said Tony Werner, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief technology officer.

Still Paying After All These Years: Verizon Raised NY Landline Rates for Phantom FiOS

Phillip Dampier July 15, 2015 Consumer News, History, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon 1 Comment

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon customers in New York are paying artificially higher telephone rates justified to encourage Verizon investment in FiOS fiber to the home upgrades most New York State communities will never receive.

Starting in 2006, the New York Public Service Commission granted Verizon rate increases for residential flat-rate and message-rate telephone service and a 2009 $1.95 monthly increase for certain residence local exchange access lines to encourage Verizon’s investments to expand FiOS fiber to the home Internet across New York State.

“We are always concerned about the impacts on ratepayers of any rate increase, especially in times of economic stress,” said then-Commission chairman Garry Brown in June 2009. “Nevertheless, there are certain increases in Verizon’s costs that have to be recognized. This is especially important given the magnitude of the company’s capital investment program, including its massive deployment of fiber optics in New York. We encourage Verizon to make appropriate investments in New York, and these minor rate increases will allow those investments to continue.”

After Verizon announced it was suspending further expansion of its FiOS project a year later, the company continued to pocket the extra revenue despite reneging on the investments the PSC considered an important justification for the rate increases.

nypsc

“The commission allowed Verizon rate increases in 2006 and 2008 based, in significant part, upon the assumption that the revenue from the higher rates would lead Verizon to invest in fiber optic lines, presumably for the benefit of wireline customers,” argues a coalition of state legislators, consumer groups, and unions. “Serious questions exist regarding the extent to which funds may instead have been used to build out the network for the benefit of wireless customers. Publicly available reports, while fragmentary, suggest that Verizon may have included construction costs for significant benefit of its wireless affiliate to be included in the costs of the Verizon New York wireline company, thus adding to its costs and tax losses.”

shellAlmost a decade later, Verizon is still receiving the extra revenue while some public officials complain Verizon is not meeting its commitments even in cities where Verizon has introduced FiOS service.

Last week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all future city contracts with Verizon be reviewed and authorized by City Hall. City officials complain Verizon promised in 2008 it would make FiOS available to every city resident no later than mid-2014. A year later, the service is still not available in some areas.

Verizon has blamed access issues and uncooperative landlords for most of the delays, but city officials are not happy with Verizon’s explanations.

“They [Verizon] have to demonstrate to us that they are good corporate actors if they want us to use our discretion in ways that benefit them,” the mayor’s counsel, Maya Wiley, told the New York Post.

Meanwhile, upstate New York residents now indefinitely bypassed by Verizon FiOS want a refund for the rate increases that were supposed to inspire Verizon to keep expanding fiber optics.

“Verizon has made at least $250 from me and every other upstate customer for nine years of broken promises,” said Penn Yan resident Mary Scavino. “Not only don’t they offer us fiber optics, we cannot even qualify for DSL service from them. If you can’t get Time Warner Cable in the Finger Lakes, you often don’t have broadband at all. It is them or nothing. Where did our money go?”

And, we're done. Verizon FiOS availability map also showing areas subsequently sold to Frontier.

And, we’re done. Verizon FiOS availability map also showing areas later sold to Frontier.

Fred, a Stop the Cap! reader in the city of Syracuse, thinks the PSC should immediately revoke the rate increases and force Verizon to refund the money to customers who will not get upgraded service.

“It’s not like Verizon cannot make money in a city like Syracuse,” writes Fred. “It’s clear the CEO thinks even more money can be made off Verizon Wireless customers off the backs of landline customers, and the PSC continues to look the other way while they do it.”

Verizon claims it has lost money on its copper wireline network for years, something the PSC seems to accept in its 2009 press release announcing rate increases:

The rate increases will generate much needed additional short-term revenues as the company faces the dual financial pressures created by competitive access line losses and the significant capital it is committing to its New York network. For 2008, Verizon reported an overall intrastate return of negative 6.7 percent and a return on common equity of negative 48.66 percent. The current trend in the market is toward bundled service offerings, and Verizon believes the proposed price changes to its message rate residential service will encourage the migration of customers towards higher-value service bundles.

That migration costs New York ratepayers even more for telephone service. Verizon’s website prompts customers seeking new landline service to bundle a package of long distance discounts and calling features that costs in excess of $50 a month before taxes, fees, and surcharges. Bundling broadband costs even more. Verizon does not tell customers ordering online they qualify for a bare bones landline with no calling features and pay-per-call billing for less than half the cost of Verizon’s recommended bundle.

Verizon's discount calling program "Message Rate B" is only available to Washington, D.C. residents who have been threatened with final disconnection by Verizon.

This Verizon discount calling program known as “Message Rate B” is only available to Washington, D.C. residents who have been threatened with disconnection or have an outstanding balance owed to Verizon. It costs $7.29 a month and includes 75 local calls.

More than three dozen New York State legislators also question whether Verizon’s “losses” are actually the result of Verizon’s purposeful “misallocation of costs” — moving expenses to the landline business even if they were incurred to benefit Verizon’s more profitable wireless division.

“The result has been massive cost increases for consumers, especially for the garden-variety dial tone service at the bottom of the technological ladder,” argues their 2014 petition. “For example, in New York City […] since 2006 the price of residential ‘dial tone’ service (one line item on the bill) went up 84%, while other services, such as inside wire maintenance, went up 132%.”

The petitioners claim there is evidence to dispute Verizon’s assertion its legacy copper network is as big of a money loser as the company suggests, thanks to “cooking the books” with accounting tricks. The petitioners want the PSC to order a review of Verizon’s books to be certain consumers are not being defrauded or manipulated.

Verizon-Tax-Dodging-banner

Community leaders were arrested in 2013 during a protest outside Verizon’s NYC headquarters (at 140 West Street at the West Side Highway) to out the company for its history of avoiding taxes. (Image: Vocal NY)

From 2009-2013, Verizon New York reported losses of over $11 billion dollars, with an income tax benefit to Verizon Communications of $5 billion, and significant tax revenue losses for state, city and federal governments. Verizon New York has apparently paid no state, city or federal income tax for the last five years or more.

If Verizon is using accounting tricks to inflate the cost of legacy landline service while reducing costs to its wireless service, it could prove a win-win for Verizon and a lose-lose to ratepayers. Verizon could use its “losses” to argue for greater rate increases for landline customers while further reducing its tax obligations. On the wireless side, Verizon would enjoy praise from Wall Street analysts and shareholders pleased by the company’s apparently effective cost controls.

The best evidence of these techniques in action are the statements of company officials which suggest wireless costs are being paid by wireline customers.

Verizon’s chief financial officer, Fran Shammo, indicated to investors that Verizon wireline construction budgets are charged for expenses related to wireless service.

“The fact of the matter is wireline capital — and I won’t get the number but it’s pretty substantial — is being spent on the wireline side of the house to support the wireless growth,” Shammo told investors at Verizon at Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Sept. 20, 2012. “So the IP backbone, the data transmission, fiber to the cell, that is all on the wireline books but it’s all being built for the wireless company.”

“It seems to me Verizon Wireless, already considered the Cadillac of wireless companies, doesn’t need a hidden subsidy from Verizon paid for by ratepayers all over the state,” Fred argues. “It seems very curious to me Verizon pioneered a large regional fiber optic upgrade that just a few years later it considers too costly to continue expanding, even as AT&T, Google, Comcast, and other companies are now entering the fiber business. A Public Service Commission that wants better broadband for New Yorkers ought to get to the bottom of this because it just doesn’t look right.”

Empire Access Expands Fiber to the Home Service Across Western N.Y./Southern Tier

empireA Prattsburgh, N.Y. family-owned company has picked up where Verizon left off and is busily wiring up small communities across western New York and the Southern Tier with fiber to the home service, giving both Verizon and Time Warner Cable some competitive headaches.

Empire Access is concentrating its service in areas where Verizon FiOS will never go and Time Warner Cable maxes out at 50/5Mbps. The company recently launched service in downtown Batavia in Genesee County and will be launching serving in Big Flats later this year.

Empire promises no data caps or usage-based billing and offers 100/20Mbps at introductory prices ranging from between $45-65/mo. Gigabit broadband speed is also available.

Where it has franchise agreements with local communities, Empire also offers cable television packages ranging from $31.45-73.40, with up to 130 channels. The packages are not as comprehensive as those from Time Warner Cable, but customers may not mind losing a dozen or two niche cable channels to save up to $30 a month off what Time Warner charges. Nationwide home phone service is also an option.

Empire relies heavily on two public/non-profit fiber backbone networks to deliver service. The Southern Tier Network comprises a 235-mile long fiber backbone that runs through Steuben, Chemung and Schuyler counties. Further north, Axcess Ontario provides backbone connectivity across its 200+ mile fiber ring around Ontario County.

fiber backboneWith the help of public and non-profit broadband infrastructure, residents in small communities across a region extending from Sayre, Pa., north to Batavia, N.Y., will have another choice besides Verizon or Frontier DSL, Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

Residents in some communities, like Hammondsport and Bath — south of Keuka Lake, love the fact they have a better choice than Time Warner Cable. Empire has reportedly signed up 70 percent of area businesses and has more than a 20% residential market share in both villages after a year doing business in the Finger Lakes communities.

Empire targets compact villages with a relatively affluent populations where no other fiber overbuilder is providing service. It doesn’t follow Google’s “fiberhood” approach where neighborhoods compete to be wired. Instead, it provides service across an entire village and then gradually expands to nearby towns from there.

Most western New York villages are already compact enough to attract the attention of cable companies, predominately Time Warner Cable, which has an effective broadband monopoly. Verizon and Frontier offer limited slowband DSL, but Verizon has stopped expanding the reach of its broadband service and will likely never bring FiOS fiber to the home service to any western N.Y. community outside of a handful of suburbs near Buffalo.

empire-access-truckThe arrival of Empire reminds some of the days when the first cable company arrived to wire their village. Word of mouth is often enough to attract new customers, but a handful of local sales agents are also on hand to handle customer signups. From there, one of the company’s 80+ employees in New York handle everything else.

Bryan Cummings, who shared the story of Empire Access with us, “is pretty stoked.”

“Bye, bye Time Warner Cable,” Cummings tells Stop the Cap!.

Time Warner has treated most of western New York about as well as its service areas in Ohio, often criticized for not keeping up with the times. With fiber overbuilders Empire Access in the Finger Lakes region and Southern Tier and Greenlight Networks in Rochester, the fastest Internet options are not coming from the local phone and cable company anymore.

WSKG in Binghamton explores fiber broadband developments in the Southern Tier of upstate New York. Empire Access is providing the fast fiber broadband Verizon, Frontier, and Time Warner Cable won’t. (3:54)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

At present, Empire Access provides service in:

  • Village of Arkport
  • City of Batavia
  • Village of Bath
  • Village of Canisteo
  • Village of Hammondsport
  • City of Hornell
  • Village of Montour Falls
  • Village of Naples
  • Village of North Hornell
  • Village of Watkins Glen
  • Village of Waverly (N.Y.)
  • Boroughs of Sayre, Athens, and South Waverly (Pa.)
  • Borough of Troy (Pa.)

Communities on Empire’s radar for future expansion include Urbana, Dansville, Wayland and Cohocton. Further out, there is some consideration of larger cities like Corning and Elmira, as well as other towns in far northern Pennsylvania. With Empire’s expansion into Naples, the company also has many options in affluent and growing communities in Ontario County, south of Rochester.

Verizon New Jersey: “It’s Good to Be King,” But Not So Good If You Are Without FiOS

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is over.

Some New Jersey residents and businesses are being notified by insurers they will have to invest in costly upgrades to their monitored fire prevention and security systems or lose insurance discounts because the equipment no longer reliably works over Verizon’s deteriorating landlines in the state.

It’s just one of many side effects of ongoing deregulation of New Jersey’s dominant phone company, Verizon, which has been able to walk away from service and upgrade commitments and oversight during the Christie Administration.

Most of the trouble is emerging in northwest and southeast New Jersey in less-populated communities that have been bypassed for FiOS upgrades or still have to use Verizon’s copper wire network for security, fire, or medical monitoring systems. As Verizon continues to slash spending on the upkeep of its legacy infrastructure, customers still relying on landlines are finding service is gradually degrading.

“The saving grace is that so many customers have dropped Verizon landlines, there are plenty of spare cables they can use to keep service up and running when a line serving our home fails,” said Leo Hancock, a Verizon landline customer for more than 50 years. “I need a landline for medical monitoring and besides cell phone service is pretty poor here.”

Hancock’s neighbor recently lost a discount on his homeowner’s insurance because his alarm system could no longer be monitored by the security company due to a poor quality landline Verizon still has not fixed. He spent several hundred dollars on a new wireless system instead.

Kelly Conklin, a founding member of the N.J. Main Street Alliance said he is required by his insurer and local fire department to have traditional landline service for his business’ sprinkler system, which automatically notifies the fire department if a fire starts when the business is closed. He has also noticed Verizon’s landlines are deteriorating, but he’s also concerned about Verizon’s prices, which the company will be free to set on its own five years from now, after an agreement with the state expires.

tangled_wires“The deal allows Verizon to raise basic landline phone rates 36 percent over the next five years and it allows them to raise business line rates over 20 percent over the next five years,” said Seth Hahn, a CWA staff representative. Beyond that, the sky is the limit.

Most of New Jersey wouldn’t mind the loss of traditional landlines so much if they had something better to replace them. Thanks to the state’s relatively small size, at least 2.2 million residents do. Verizon has managed to complete wiring its fiber to the home service FiOS to 358 towns in the state. Verizon hoped fiber optics, although initially expensive to install, would be infinitely more reliable and easily upgradable, unlike its aging copper-wire predecessor. Unfortunately, there are 494 towns in New Jersey, meaning 136 communities are either stuck using Verizon DSL or dial-up if they don’t or can’t receive service from Comcast.

So how did so many towns get left behind in the fiber revolution? Most of the blame is equally divided between Verizon and politicians and regulators in Trenton.

Verizon did not want to approach nearly 500 communities to secure franchise agreements from each of them, dismissed by then Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg as a “Mickey Mouse procedure.” Verizon wanted to cut a deal with New Jersey to create a statewide video franchise law allowing it to offer video service anywhere it wanted in the state.

A November 2005 compromise provided a way forward. In return for a statewide video franchise that stripped local authority over Verizon’s operations, Verizon would commit to aggressively building out its FiOS network to every home in the state where Verizon offered landline telephone service.

The entire state was to be wired by 2010. It wasn’t. Two events are responsible: The arrival of Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 and the retirement of Mr. Seidenberg the following summer.

Christie

Christie

Christie’s appointments to the Board of Public Utilities, which used to hold Verizon’s feet to the fire as the state’s telecommunications regulator, instead put the fire out.

“They were Christie’s cronies,” charged several unions representing Verizon employees in the state.

The then incoming president of the BPU was Dianne Solomon, wife of close Christie associate Lee Solomon. The BPU is a technocrat’s paradise with hearings and board documents filled with highly technical jargon and service quality reports. Solomon brought her only experience, as an official with the United States Tennis Association, to the table. Administration critics immediately accused the governor of using the BPU as a political patronage parking lot. When he was done making appointments, three of the four commissioners on the BPU were all politically connected to the governor and many were accused of lacking telecommunications expertise.

When communities bypassed by FiOS complained Verizon was not honoring its commitment, the governor and his allies at the BPU proposed letting Verizon off the hook. Instead of demanding Verizon finish the job it started, state authorities decided the company had done enough. So had Verizon’s then-incoming CEO Lowell McAdam, who has since shown almost no interest in any further expansion of fiber optics.

But the working-class residents of Laurel Springs, Somerdale, and Lindenwold are interested. But they have the misfortune of living in more income-challenged parts of Camden County. So while Cherry Hill, Camden itself, and Haddonfield have FiOS, many bypassed residents cannot even get DSL from Verizon.

(Image relies on information provided by the Inquirer)

(Image relies on information provided by the Inquirer)

The Inquirer recently offered readers a glimpse into the life of the FiOS-less — the digitally redlined — where the introduction of call waiting and three-way calling was the last significant telecommunications breakthrough from Verizon.

“All Verizon offers here is dial-up,” Dawn Amadio, the municipal clerk in Laurel Springs, said of the Internet service, expressing the frustration of many residents and local officials. “That’s why everybody has Comcast. What does Verizon want us to do? Live in the Dark Ages?”

Or move to a more populated or affluent area where Verizon’s Return on Investment requirements are met.

The state government could have followed Philadelphia, which demanded every city neighborhood be wired as part of its franchise agreement with Verizon in 2009. So far, Verizon is on track to meet that commitment with no complaints by next February.

Further out in the eastern Pennsylvania suburbs, Verizon got franchise agreements with the towns it really wanted to serve — largely affluent with residents packed relatively close to each other. Verizon signed 200 franchise agreements in Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania. It managed this without a statewide video franchise agreement. But at least 34 towns in those counties were left behind.

A deal between Verizon and Trenton officials was supposed to avoid any broadband backwaters emerging in New Jersey.

But state officials also allowed a requirement that mandated Verizon not skip any of 70 towns it sought guarantees would be upgraded for FiOS, mostly a mix of county seats, poor neighborhoods, and urban areas in the northern part of the state. Verizon could wire anywhere else at its discretion. Trenton politicians never thought that would be an issue because FiOS would sell itself and Verizon could not possibly ignore consumer demand for fiber optic upgrades.

But Verizon easily could after its current CEO found even bigger profits could be made from its prestigious wireless division. McAdam has shifted the bulk of Verizon’s spending out of its wireline and fiber optic networks straight into high profit Verizon Wireless. If he can manage it, he’d like to shift New Jersey’s rural customers to that wireless network as well, with wireless home phone replacements and wireless broadband. Only state oversight and regulatory agencies stand in the way of McAdam’s vision, and in New Jersey regulators have chosen to sit on the sidelines and watch.

That is very bad news for 99 New Jersey towns where FiOS is available to fewer than 60 percent of residents (Gloucester Township, Mount Laurel, Deptford, Pennsauken, and Voorhees, among others.)

Another 135 New Jersey towns, including a group of Delaware River municipalities along Route 130 in Burlington County and most of the Jersey Shore, have no FiOS at all. Other than in the county seats, Verizon has not extended FiOS to any other towns in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May Counties, reports the newspaper.

Verizon never promised New Jersey 100% fiber, comes the response from Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski. Instead of future expansion, Verizon will step up its efforts to get customers away from the cable company in areas where Verizon offers FiOS service. The company says it spent $4 billion on FiOS in New Jersey and it is time to earn a return on that investment.

But local communities have already discovered Verizon earning fringe benefits by not offering fiber optic service.

verizonfiosIn Laurel Springs, customers have largely fled Verizon for Comcast, which is usually the only provider of broadband in the area. A package including broadband and phone service costs less than paying Verizon for a landline and Comcast for Internet access, so Verizon landline disconnects in the town are way up.

Mayor Thomas Barbera discovered that once Verizon serves fewer than 51% of phone customers in town, it can claim it is no longer competitive and devalue its infrastructure and assets to virtually zero and walk away from any business property tax obligations.

“Once they skip,” Barbera told the Inquirer, “we don’t get [Verizon’s] best product, and then they say we can’t compete and we don’t owe you our taxes. It’s good to be king.”

Correction: With our thanks to Verizon’s manager of media relations Lee Gierczynski for setting the record straight, we regrettably reported information that turned out to be in error. The amended Cable Act that brought statewide video franchising to New Jersey never required Verizon to build out its FiOS network to every home in New Jersey where it offered landline telephone service. Instead, the agreement required Verizon to fully build its fiber network to 70 so-called “must-build” municipalities

Gierczynski also offers the following rebuttal to other points raised in our piece:

No one is disputing the fact that Verizon is spending less on its wireline networks.  The spending is aligned with the number of wireline customers Verizon serves, which has declined by more than 50 percent over the last decade.  The implication that this decreased investment is leading to a deterioration of the copper network is what is wrong. Over the last several years, Verizon New Jersey has spent more than $5 million just on proactive copper maintenance initiatives that have led to significant decreases in service complaints. The BPU’s standard for measuring acceptable service quality is the monthly customer trouble report rate – which is the best overall indicator of network reliability.  The BPU’s standard is 2.3 troubles per 100 access lines.  Over the last several years, Verizon’s performance across the state has consistently been below that standard, even in places in northwest and southeast New Jersey primarily served by copper infrastructure.  The 2014 trouble rate for southeastern New Jersey towns like Hopewell (0.3 troubles per 100 lines) and Upper Deerfield (0.34 per 100 lines) are well below the BPU’s standard.

Verizon is on track to meet its build obligations in those municipalities by the end of this year as statutorily obligated to do (not 2010 as you wrote) and also has deployed its network to all or parts of 288 other communities across New Jersey.   Today Verizon offers its video service to more customers than any other single wireline provider in the state.

 

A Tale of Two Territories: Frontier Plans Upgrades for Newly Ex-Verizon/AT&T Customers While Legacy Areas Suffer

frontier-fast-buffalo-large-2The new CEO of Frontier Communications is promising more fiber to the home service and advanced ADSL2+ and VDSL2 service to dramatically boost Internet speeds… if you happen to live in a Verizon territory Frontier is planning to acquire in Texas, California, or Florida. For Connecticut customers that used to belong to AT&T, Frontier also plans to spend money to further build out AT&T’s U-verse platform to reach more suburban customers not deemed profitable enough to service by AT&T.

For legacy Frontier customers in other states? Frontier plans nothing beyond what it already provides — usually dismally slow DSL.

Speaking to investors during the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Frontier CEO Daniel McCarthy said upgrades offer the company new earnings opportunities, but a closer analysis reveals those benefits will only reach customers in areas where Verizon and AT&T already did most of the work and spent the money required to build advanced network infrastructure.

Verizon has spent millions upgrading customers in Texas to its FiOS service and has a significant fiber to the home presence in California and Florida. Because fiber infrastructure is already largely in place, Frontier will not have to spend huge sums to build a new network. Instead, it will spend incrementally to expand service to nearby service areas.

Mediocre broadband in upstate New York.

Mediocre broadband in upstate New York.

“The FiOS penetration is much higher, specifically in Texas, but we think there’s a lot of opportunity to drive FiOS penetration in Florida and California,” McCarthy said. “We see that as a big opportunity.”

Fierce Telecom notes Frontier won’t have to make a large investment outside of installing new DSLAMs in remote terminals or local Central Offices to deliver higher speeds over copper. Frontier will likely depend on VDSL2 technology on short copper line lengths in suburban areas and ADSL2+ in rural locations.

“I think in this case it might be replacing some electronics, but it’s not a heavy lift from a construction perspective,” McCarthy said. “By putting in a shelf and next-generation capabilities, whether it’s VDSL, ADSL2+, or all the different flavors you can use to serve the different loop lengths in a market you achieve the ability to bring a fresh product set into an area at a fairly low cost.”

While Frontier is willing to invest money in areas that are easy to upgrade, it has proven itself reluctant to consider major upgrades in its legacy service areas where it acquired traditional copper-based landline networks.

“The new states will clearly have new growth opportunities,” McCarthy said. “In Florida there has been a revival of housing in certain areas and subdivision growth in Texas and California.”

In Connecticut, Frontier will build on the acquired AT&T fiber/copper network with a modest expansion of U-verse.

frontier u-verse“We actually see growth opportunity in Connecticut,” McCarthy said. “As we go through and look at the Connecticut property, one of the things that have been a recent development from a technology perspective allows us to serve lower density parts of the state of Connecticut with U-verse product that was limited by densities and loop lengths in the past.”

Although the company often touts millions in upgrade investments, most legacy service areas see only modest service improvements, while the company continues to score very poor in customer satisfaction, especially in states like West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. With Frontier’s ongoing focus on newly acquired service areas, long-standing customers in other states are feeling neglected.

In upstate New York, the prevalence of Frontier Communications’ low speed DSL on the company’s legacy copper network has dragged down overall broadband speed ratings to some of the lowest in the country. Frontier territory Rochester, N.Y., in particular, is now among the worst cities in the northeast for overall broadband speed performance, now rated at just 21.42Mbps. The national average is 36.22Mbps. In comparison, Buffalo scores 24.31Mbps, Cleveland: 22.57Mbps, and NYC 55.56Mbps.

Verizon Buys AOL for $4.4 Billion; Bolsters Verizon’s Mobile Video/Advertising Business

aolVerizon Communications this morning announced it will buy AOL, Inc., in a $4.4 billion cash deal that will provide Verizon with powerful mobile video and advertising platforms.

Originally known for its ubiquitous dial-up Internet access, AOL today is better described as a content and advertising aggregator — putting online video in front of viewers bolstered by AOL’s powerful advertising technology that can match a targeted advertising message to a specific viewer in milliseconds.

AOL’s portfolio also includes the well-known EngadgetTechCrunch and Huffington Post websites, which many analysts expect will not be part of the deal, quickly spun off to a new owner(s) to avoid any political headaches over Verizon’s control of the well-known content sites, some including coverage critical of Verizon.

Verizon-logoAll signs point to the AOL acquisition as more evidence Verizon management is shifting priorities to its mobile business, Verizon Wireless. In 2014, Verizon acquired the assets of Intel Media, which was planning an Internet TV service called OnCue. Verizon’s acquisition will help it develop an alternative television platform and many analysts expect it will primarily reach Verizon Wireless customers.

Complimenting online video with AOL’s ad placement and insertion platform will likely be the best chance Verizon has to monetize that video content.

“Certainly the subscription business and the content businesses are very noteworthy,” confirmed Verizon’s president of operations, John Stratton. “For us, the principal interest was around the ad tech platform.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Why Verizon Coveted AOLs Ad Technology and Mobile Video 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg says Verizon’s real interest in AOL is their online advertising platform, which can bolster Verizon Wireless’ mobile video service. (2:39)

Verizon’s $4 billion investment in AOL did not go into expanding its fiber optic platform FiOS.

Verizon Wireless Multicast

Verizon Wireless Multicast

“For the price it’s paying for AOL, Verizon could deploy its FiOS broadband service across the rest of its service area, bringing much-needed services and competition to communities like Baltimore, Boston and Buffalo,” said Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. “Instead, the company is spending a fortune to wade into the advertising and content-production markets. In terms of the latter, Verizon has already shown a willingness to block content and skew news coverage.”

As Stop the Cap! reported last week, that isn’t a surprise to some utility companies that believe all signs point to Verizon’s growing disinterest in its wireline division. Florida Power & Light expects Verizon will become a wireless only company within the next 10 years.

While AT&T explores expanding its wireless service internationally and seeks approval for its acquisition of satellite service DirecTV, Verizon Wireless is moving to monetize increased customer usage of its network with the forthcoming introduction of a video service this summer. The product would offer a mix of ad-supported and paid short video content and may offer live multicast programming that can reach a larger audience without disrupting network capacity.

Increased viewing of high bandwidth video will force Verizon customers to continually upgrade data plans, further monetizing Verizon’s wireless business. AOL’s ad insertion technology will allow Verizon to earn advertising income from viewers, creating a dual revenue stream.

Verizon can also sell advertisers information about its massive customer base of wired and wireless customers, including their browsing habits and demographic profile to deliver “data-driven marketing and addressable advertising.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Verizon-AOL Deal 1999 All Over Again 5-12-15.flv

Bloomberg News puts together several of Verizon’s puzzling recent acquisitions, which point to a shift of Verizon’s business towards its mobile and content platforms. (5:42)

Comcast/NBCUniversal Says Verizon is Violating Its Contract By Offering Slimmed-Down, Less Expensive TV Packages

Phillip Dampier April 21, 2015 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 2 Comments

Comcast/NBCUniversal today joined FOX and ESPN warning Verizon it is violating the terms of their agreements by offering FiOS TV customers slimmed-down, less expensive cable TV packages.

Verizon began offering the new packages Sunday, selling customers a basic core package containing two “channel packs” of the customer’s choice for $55 a month. Each additional pack of 10-17 theme-based channels costs $10 a month. It is Verizon’s effort to offer customers something closer to an a-la-carte option where customers pay only for the channels they want, without raising the ire of their programming partners who supply both major and minor cable networks.

verizon custom tv 1

verizon custom tv 2

Within hours of learning of Verizon’s Custom TV offer, ESPN — the most expensive basic cable network in the country — objected, saying its network must be included in the core package that every pay television customer receives.

By this afternoon, Comcast/NBCUniversal and FOX added their own objections and are warning there could be legal ramifications if Verizon continues to offer the packages. Both Comcast and FOX agree with ESPN’s contention their contracts with Verizon do not allow it to split their channels into add-on tiers.

Verizon responded it doesn’t intend to change a thing.

“We have launched the product, we are not retracting it, and we believe we are in our legal rights to launch it,” said Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo.

The lawyers are expected to take it from here.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WSJ Verizon Breaks Pay-TV Bundle as Competition Mounts 4-19-15.flv

The Wall Street Journal reports on Verizon’s new slimmed-down TV package and why Verizon FiOS TV is offering it to subscribers. (2:24)

Verizon FiOS Dumps The Weather Channel; Viewers Barely Notice As Accu-Weather Takes Its Place

Phillip Dampier March 16, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

twc protestThe latest contract dispute over cable programming between The Weather Channel and Verizon FiOS has deprived Verizon customers of The Weather Channel, but more than a few viewers who don’t live for storm porn don’t seem to notice or care.

Verizon’s FiOS TV service has “opted out” of further carriage of the 24-hour weather network, according to Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski.

Verizon’s contract with The Weather Channel recently expired and Verizon chose not to renew it. Early last year, DirecTV temporarily dropped the weather network over its proposed wholesale renewal rate, so the asking price is likely a factor in the decision to drop the network.

Conveniently for Verizon, last Friday competitor AccuWeather launched its own 24/7 weather channel and gained five million U.S. viewers on its launch day courtesy of FiOS TV.

A spokesperson for Verizon hinted that the usefulness of The Weather Channel has been diminished with the onslaught of digital devices that can call up a local forecast in seconds instead of waiting for one on a weather cable network.

Verizon might have a point, considering The Weather Channel itself has gradually lost interest in showing local weather in favor of reality programming to slow declining ratings. Weather junkies disapprove.

“The Weather Channel needs to do some internal soul-searching before taking a leap of faith that every FiOS subscriber wants to view their mindless reality shows and watch annoying dum-dums like Al Roker,” commented one affected subscriber in Philadelphia. “Good for you Verizon for dumping once-great but now junk-show/dumbed-down channels. There are more of these channels you can also start getting rid of, don’t stop.”

550x1418_03131223_accuweather_announces_groundbreaking_247_networkAccuWeather also called out The Weather Channel for preempting the weather for “Fat Guys in the Woods” and “Prospectors” — two Weather Channel reality shows that may encounter bad weather, but don’t report on it.

The AccuWeather Network promises viewers “all-weather, all the time without reality-TV fluff,” according to a statement from the State College, Pa.-based media company.

Bloomberg News notes fewer viewers are bothering to watch cable weather channels when they can get a commercial-free forecast instantly from a smartphone without waiting for “Weather on the 8’s.”

AccuWeather Network is aware of this and has not been designed for extended viewing, expecting viewers won’t watch for very long.

“We want our channel to be something you look at, get your weather, and then go back to other programming,” says AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers. “It’s a way to use your TV, just as you might use your tablet or phone.”

That seems to serve Verizon just fine because Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for The Weather Channel said discussions to renew their contract with Verizon FiOS TV have ended. The Weather Channel is now depending on viewer loyalty to force Verizon to put the network back on the lineup, because lowering the price has not worked.

“In the end, we offered Verizon FiOS our bundle of services at a lower price than the previous contract,” the channel said on its Keep The Weather Channel website. “They were unresponsive to our offer and surprised us and their customers by unexpectedly dropping The Weather Channel, WeatherScan, Weather Channel On Demand and The Weather Channel weather widget from their offering.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg AccuWeather TV Channel Just Has the Weather 3-11-15.flv

Bloomberg News talks to the CEO of AccuWeather about his new 24/7 channel that promises the weather and nothing but the weather. (4:55)

Verizon: Our Legacy Landline Service Areas are Not a Part of Our Future Growth Strategy; Verizon Wireless Is

Verizon's FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon’s FiOS expansion is still dead.

Verizon Communications does not see its remaining landline customers as part of the company’s future growth and customers should not be surprised if Verizon sells more of its legacy network to other telephone companies including Frontier, Windstream, and CenturyLink.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2015 on March 2, Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo made it clear to investors Verizon will dump “non-core” assets that do not align with the company’s future long-term growth strategy, even in areas where FiOS predominates.

Shammo told investors Verizon’s growth strategy is predicated on Verizon Wireless, which will continue to get most of the company’s attention and future investment.

“It’s all around the wireless network and I’ve consistently said before, you should anticipate that wireless CapEx continues to trend up while wireline continues to trend down,” Shammo said.

The bulk of Verizon’s investments in its wired network are being made in areas that are already designated as FiOS fiber to the home service areas. Shammo explained that the company is required to invest in FiOS expansion to comply with agreements signed in cities like New York and Philadelphia to make the service widely available in those communities. Beyond those commitments, Shammo signaled the company isn’t planning any significant new spending to upgrade the rest of its legacy copper network.

“We continue to invest in those things that we believe are the future growth of the company,” Shammo said, and anything involving its wired networks outside of Verizon’s core FiOS service area in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic states probably doesn’t qualify.

Verizon-logoWhat will happen in Verizon service areas that are not considered priorities?

“For the right price and right terms, if there’s an asset we don’t believe is strategic to Verizon and can return shareholder value, we’ll dispose of that asset,” Shammo said.

An example of that strategy was Verizon’s sudden announcement in February it would sell its wireline assets in Florida, California, and Texas to Frontier Communications for $10.54 billion. Although a significant part of those service areas are served by FiOS after Verizon invested more than $7 billion on upgrades, Verizon still plans to abandon customers and walk away from that investment because it is not part of Verizon’s future growth strategy.

“If you look at Florida, Texas, and California, these are three island properties,” Shammo told investors. “FiOS is a very small footprint of those properties compared to the copper [except in] Florida because it was just Tampa. But you look at that and you say strategically there’s really not much we can do with those properties because they are islands.”

Verizon will spend the proceeds from its latest landline sale on the wireless spectrum it just acquired and will pay down some of the debt incurred after buying out Vodafone’s former ownership stake in Verizon Wireless. The company has also undertaken a massive share repurchase program, planning to buy back 100 million shares by 2017 to help its shareholders. To ease investor concerns about some of Verizon’s latest strategic moves, it also announced plans to buy back an extra $5 billion worth of shares in the second quarter of this year.

A close review of the latest Verizon sale to Frontier shows the extent Verizon believes in its wireless business at the cost of its legacy copper and FiOS networks. That comes as no surprise to Verizon observers who note its current CEO used to run Verizon Wireless.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

Shammo, as featured on a recent cover of CFO Studio magazine.

“It’s been clear for years that Verizon has wanted out of the copper business,” said Doug Dawson from CCG Consulting. “They first sold off large portions of New England to Fairpoint. Then in 2010 they sold a huge swath of lines in fourteen states to Frontier including the whole state of West Virginia. And now comes this sale. It’s starting to look like Verizon doesn’t want to be in the landline business at all, perhaps not even in the fiber business.”

Verizon’s latest sale involves “higher margin properties than the rest of our wireline business,” Shammo said, in part because large parts of the urban service areas involved were previously upgraded to FiOS.

“So if you look at Dallas, we were over 50% penetrated both in TV and broadband,” said Shammo. “So, it was a very highly penetrated market that was delivering a lot of cash flow and delivering a lot of earnings. So by just divesting of the three properties, if you just did it on an apples-to-apples basis, there would be dilution.

Giving up that amount of cash flow — needed to win back the $7 billion in FiOS upgrade investments Verizon made in the three states — would normally concern investors worried about the “stranded costs” left over from investments that were never fully repaid. But Verizon has a plan for that: an “Involuntary Separation Plan” (ISP) for more than 2,000 Verizon employees, a polite way to describe job-cutting layoffs.

“We have a year to plan for this and the plan is similar to what we did with the last time we rolled properties out from Frontier,” Shammo said. “We will plan to offset the stranded cost and those plans are already being worked. You saw a little bit of that in the fourth quarter where we gave some ISPs to the represented employee base and we had 2,100 people come off payroll.”

Verizon’s growing preoccupation with Verizon Wireless leaves some analysts questioning the company’s wisdom giving up high-profit FiOS broadband in favor of wireless at a time when competition among wireless companies is finally emerging.

“Verizon reports an overall 41% market penetration for its data product on FiOS networks,” said Dawson. “Data has such a high profit margin that it’s hard to think that FiOS is not extremely profitable for them. The trend has been for the amount of data used by households to double every three years, and one doesn’t have to project that trend forward very far to see that future bandwidth needs are only going to be met by fiber or by significantly upgraded cable networks.”

Considering the wireless market is maturing and most everyone who wants a cell phone already has one, there are questions about where Verizon sees future growth in a business where it is getting harder to attract new customers.

“Verizon was a market leader getting into the fiber business. FiOS was a bold move at the time,” Dawson reflects. “It’s another bold move to essentially walk away from the fiber business and concentrate on wireless. They obviously think that wireless has a better future than wireline. But since they are already at the top of pile in cellular one has to wonder where they see future growth?”

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