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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)

Verizon Wireline Workers Prepare to Strike Aug. 1; “Negotiations Are Going Poorly”

Phillip Dampier July 28, 2015 Consumer News, Verizon No Comments
Verizon workers attend a mass rally at Verizon headquarters on July 25, 2015. (Image: CWA)

Verizon workers attend a mass rally at Verizon headquarters on July 25, 2015. (Image: CWA)

If Verizon management and its unionized workforce cannot come to terms on a new contract by this Saturday, up to 39,000 Verizon landline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia will begin a strike industry observers predict could last for weeks.

Verizon Communications has increasingly shifted attention and investment away from its wireline networks, which include copper landline service and its FiOS fiber to the home network. The workforce of line technicians, installers, and engineers that are trying to keep Verizon’s wired networks running well are under pressure to accept concessions the company says reflect the reality of a dwindling number of landline customers and competition for its FiOS network.

As of Monday, representatives for the Communications Workers of America District 1, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2213 and IBEW New England Regional committees continued to call out Verizon for insisting on a list of benefit and job security reductions:

  • Eliminating protections against layoffs and mandatory transfers/temporary reassignment to different Verizon service areas, including those in other states;
  • No Cost of Living increases;
  • Adding Sunday as part of the basic work week;
  • Possible elimination of corporate profit-sharing;
  • Eliminating caps on overtime and limiting payouts to 1.5x regular pay;
  • Reduce the notice given to workers if Verizon has plans for any major technological change (ie. getting rid of rural landlines, selling FiOS, moving customers to wireless, etc.);
  • Reductions in medical benefits including higher deductibles, co-pays, premiums, and co-insurance;
  • Eliminating the union’s ability to negotiate retiree health care benefits, often at risk in other companies;
  • Eliminate the lump sum pension option and introducing new restrictions on pensions and new fees on 401K plans;
  • Eliminate accidental disability coverage;
  • Eliminate family care leave.

cwa_logoVerizon spokesman Rick Young countered that Verizon has offered workers a straight 4% wage increase but admitted many existing contract provisions are decades old and no longer reflect current business reality. Young added Verizon union network technicians are paid $160,000 a year on average in total compensation, including salary, pension and health care. But Verizon management is insistent on cutting back the company’s health care costs, noting Verizon successfully reduced the cost of covering nonunionized workers to about $16,700 per family while union workers still receive coverage worth $20,000-24,000 a year per family.

Union officials counter Verizon was able to manage that by slashing non-union employee benefits and forcing workers into high deductible medical plans that offer lower levels of coverage. In 2011, Verizon fought its unions over the same issues, including a company demand workers accept health care plans with a $5000 out-of-pocket deductible before medical coverage kicked in. That led to a contentious two-week strike.

“Negotiations are going poorly,” Communication Workers of America’s Bob Master told CBS News this week. “We are far apart.”

Verizon-logoWith 86 percent of union members voting to strike if negotiations fail, it seems an almost certainty workers will be on the picket lines by next week if negotiations remain unsuccessful. Workers believe Verizon’s profits have been shared mostly at the top through executive bonuses and ever-increasing compensation packages while ordinary workers are asked to forego benefits and job security.

In solidarity with Verizon customers, the unions are also fighting to force Verizon to further build out its FiOS fiber network to more customers and stop allowing its copper network to deteriorate to the point of unusability.

“On the one hand, Verizon refuses to build its high-speed FiOS network in lower-income areas and on the other, they are systemically ignoring maintenance needs on their landline network,” said Ed Mooney, vice president for CWA District 2-13, which covers Pennsylvania to Virginia.  “This leaves customers at the mercy of a cable monopoly or stuck with deteriorating service while Verizon executives and shareholders rake in billions.”

Trainor

Trainor

A highly critical audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic Internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it, claims the union.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming it had wired the city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found Verizon stonewalled the audit process.

The CWA also contends rates for basic telephone service have increased in recent years, even as Verizon has refused to expand their broadband services into many cities and rural communities, and service quality has greatly deteriorated. Verizon’s declining service quality especially impacts customers who cannot afford more advanced cable services, or who live in areas with few options for cable or wireless services.

But the company is not hurting for money, argues union officials.

“Verizon made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014 and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone,” said Dennis Trainer, vice president of CWA District One in a statement.

“In 2012, during a time of great economic stress, the company came to the union and after 15 months of bargaining, including mediation, reached an agreement that the company said they had to have to survive,” wrote an official updating workers represented by CWA District 2-13 (Mid-Atlantic region) in a bargaining update. “Since then, every year they have made billions of dollars in profits and not one executive officer at Verizon has made a single sacrifice like they told us they needed us to do. The latest insult being [Verizon CEO] Lowell McAdam getting a 16% raise in one year while we have paid more in healthcare, lost pensions for new hires, froze pensions for current members, made significant changes in incidental absence payments and made other changes to our contract that have resulted in stressful working conditions and excessive discipline to our members.”

CWA officials in District 1, representing New York and New England workers, were more blunt in responding to an unsolicited email sent to every worker signed by Marc Reed, Verizon’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

“Reed suggests in his e-mail that he has a concern for you and your family,” wrote one official. “Ask yourself, if he really gave a shit about you and your family why is he proposing to gut the contract that provides for you and your family.”

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.”

Verizon: Take Our Phone Service Or You Get No DSL Broadband from Us

Phillip Dampier July 15, 2015 Consumer News, Internet Overcharging, Verizon 1 Comment

verizon-protestVerizon will not let you cancel their landline phone service unless you are also ready to lose DSL broadband as well.

It is one more way Verizon is trying to stem landline losses in areas where they offer less than stellar DSL service on lines the company has long since stopped upgrading.

“Verizon hasn’t offered standalone High Speed Internet (DSL) service for more than three years,” Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell told USA Today in an e-mail. “So, if a customer with HSI and voice service wants to disconnect his voice service, we will disconnect the voice service and the HSI service.”

Verizon claims this practice benefits customers by helping the company “competitively price service.”

Dropping landline service while keeping broadband has allowed some phone customers to save $20 a month or more by turning off their landline and moving to cheaper broadband-delivered telephone service. But not if their phone company happens to be Verizon.

For now, the best option customers have is to downgrade their landline service to the cheapest “message unit” plan available, which charges 7-9c for each outgoing call and has no calling features. But you will have to call Verizon to do it — Verizon hides the fact it even offers economy landline service on its website.

In contrast, AT&T, Frontier, CenturyLink, Windstream, and FairPoint all allow customers to choose broadband-only service.

Verizon is Still Pushing Voice Link Wireless Home Phone Service

Verizon Voice Link

Verizon Voice Link

The Communications Workers of America today claimed Verizon is refusing to repair broken landlines and is once again trying to steer customers to a controversial wireless landline replacement Verizon calls Voice Link.

“Verizon is systematically abandoning the legacy network and as a consequence the quality of service for millions of phone customers has plummeted,” Bob Master, CWA’s political director for the union’s northeastern region, told the Wall Street Journal.

The CWA will file public information requests this week with state regulators in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania seeking more detailed information about how Verizon is utilizing Voice Link.

Stop the Cap! has received several messages from Verizon customers over the last six months, most in New York City, that were offered Voice Link as a temporary solution to ongoing landline service problems including no dial tone, intermittently failing lines, and those with crosstalk or static problems.

“It is crazy how long Verizon can take to fix a phone line in Manhattan,” wrote our reader Helen. “The problems started in February and we lost service for what turned out to be almost a month. We had four broken repair appointments and every date they promised it would be fixed it wasn’t. Can you imagine a whole month without a phone line?”

Helen tells us that Verizon started leaving messages on her voicemail apologizing for the problems, but offered Voice Link, a wireless landline replacement in the interim.

“At least it was something I told my husband, but he didn’t like the idea because Verizon would probably forget about us after putting it in,” she said. “I won the argument but we lost in the end because Voice Link never worked properly.”

Verizon FiOS is coming to Fire Island.

Helen complained Voice Link made phone calls difficult to understand and often her phone didn’t ring when calls came in.

“Everyone sounded like they were underwater and it was hard to understand people,” she said. “Callers would tell me they heard five rings when calling me, but I only heard one, if that.”

“We switched to Time Warner Cable phone service and it was installed fast,” she said. “But then the fax machine wouldn’t work right so we still need Verizon after all.”

Helen’s apartment building is not yet wired for FiOS because of problems the building management allegedly had with Verizon technicians in the past. She is willing to sign up, but thinks Verizon is not doing itself any favors treating customers badly when their old landlines fail.

“It makes you think how long it will take them to show up if a rat chews through a fiber cable next year.”

The fact Verizon offers Voice Link to customers while phone repairs go uncompleted for extended periods worries the CWA, who accused Verizon of “steering” customers to the wireless replacement.

Verizon spokesman Rich Young says about 13,000 customers have decided to keep Voice Link as a permanent solution to their landline woes and have never gone back to their old copper service.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Voice Link A Reliable Alternative.mp4

Verizon calls its Voice Link wireless landline replacement a reliable alternative in this promotional video produced in 2013. (2:24)

Thomas MacNabb, Verizon’s director of operations, also defends Voice Link, claiming it represents Verizon giving customers the best possible service when weather-related outages arise.

But retired AT&T executive W. Kenneth Lindhorst counters Voice Link is no upgrade, relying on old 1990s technology, and does not work with credit card machines, faxes, security and home medical monitoring, or wireless data.

“They come in with the implication that they are upgrading services in the neighborhood. They do not tell you that they are switching from a regulated basic to an unregulated service,” Lindhorst said. “They don’t like to be regulated by government. They don’t like their customers to be protected by government.”

Lindhorst is part of Don’t Hang Up On New Jersey, a group fighting Verizon’s efforts to replace Superstorm Sandy-damaged telephone lines with Voice Link. Two bills in the New Jersey legislature: A2459/S278 are seeking a one year moratorium on Verizon replacing damaged copper wiring with any alternative technology, including wireless, until further studies can be done.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Verizon Voice Link Hanging Up On NJ.mp4

Verizon Voice Link is “hanging up on New Jersey” according to a consumer advocacy group. An interview with retired AT&T executive W. Kenneth Lindhorst suggests Verizon wants to use the service to escape regulatory oversight. (2:00)

Deregulation: New Jersey Regulators Unanimously Vote to Let Verizon Do Pretty Much Anything It Wants

verizonThe New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) unanimously approved an agreement this week exempting Verizon from most basic landline service regulations, prompting immediate outrage from consumer, senior and labor groups who predict it will lead to rate increases and deteriorating service.

The agreement removes pricing oversight regulations for residential basic telephone service, single-line business telephone service, nonrecurring charges for residential service connection and installation, and residential directory assistance services. That will allow Verizon to charge whatever the market will bear after a transition period. While that may not be a big problem for cell phone users and those who have dropped Verizon for cable company phone service or a broadband-powered Voice over IP alternative, it will leave rural New Jersey residents vulnerable if Verizon abuses its pricing privileges in areas where there are no alternatives.

“Today’s back room deal is bad for seniors, bad for workers at Verizon, and bad for the millions of businesses and homes that rely on affordable, reliable phone service,” said Seth Hahn, the CWA’s New Jersey legislative and political director. “In fact, it’s bad for everyone in New Jersey except Verizon. Something changed between 2011 when Governor Christie said seniors need protections and now I fear it’s the hundreds of thousands of dollars Verizon has funneled to various entities to help Christie’s political ambitions.”

Under the new deal, Verizon will cap its current basic residential rate of $16.45 for what it calls a five-year transition period. Verizon can increase the cost by only $6 during the first five years. After that, the sky is the limit.

Landline service quality - disconnected.

Landline service quality – disconnected.

The change is likely to push many of New Jersey’s 100,000 remaining landline customers to competitive alternatives which often cost considerably less, but those with medical conditions, rural residents and seniors will likely be trapped using Verizon’s copper wire landline service indefinitely.

It’s the second major victory for Verizon. Last March, the Christie Administration let Verizon off the hook with no penalties for reneging on its commitment to wire 100% of New Jersey with fiber optics by 2010. New Jersey ratepayers paid as much as $15 billion in surcharges and higher rates for a statewide fiber network that was supposed to reach every home and business. Verizon kept the money and many parts of New Jersey never got the promised upgrades. Now those areas still using decades-old copper wiring are likely to experience an increase in service problems as Verizon continues to decrease its budget to maintain landline infrastructure.

Local officials, particularly those in rural counties, were angry the BPU approved a deregulation measure that will leave consumers exposed to deteriorating service as Verizon focuses on its more lucrative wireless business.

“Who will protect the public interest now,” Greg Facemyer, a councilman in Hopewell Township, Cumberland County told The Star-Ledger by email. “This is a sad day for the senior citizens, students and farmers in small underserved communities like Hopewell Township. Where do New Jersey residents turn when their phones don’t work. This is a clear public safety issue. Spotty wireless coverage is not a reliable alternative to Verizon’s statutory obligation to New Jersey residents.”

bpuStefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Rate Counsel saw the vote as a rush to Verizon’s business and profit agendas.

“I am certainly disheartened that they didn’t at least allow more time,” Brand said. “I think the public has a lot to say about this and I thought it would have been a good idea to have the public’s input.”

Verizon says it is the only telecom company in New Jersey subject to the outdated regulations now being dropped. The company says its competitors have done business without price regulations and oversight and have an unfair advantage.

“Something smells at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and it’s not May flowers,” responded Daniel Benson, a representative of the 14th district of the New Jersey General Assembly. “At a time when Verizon isn’t maintaining its infrastructure, as evidenced by service declines throughout New Jersey, I don’t believe further deregulation is a sensible policy response. If the agreement is approved, many will be left defenseless to Verizon’s demands and get hit directly where it hurts — their pocketbooks. To add insult to injury, no public hearings are scheduled — those affected can’t even voice concerns on how changes would affect them.”

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)

Fla. Utility Says Negotiations With Verizon Make It Clear Verizon Will Exit the Wireline Business Within 10 Years

FPL_logo_PMS2925A Florida utility company has told federal regulators it is certain Verizon has a plan to exit its landline and wired broadband businesses within the next ten years to become an all-wireless service provider.

Florida Power & Light argued in a regulatory filing with the Federal Communications Commission it was clear Verizon had plans to exit its wireline business after the phone company suddenly informed regulated utilities like FP&L it no longer seemed interested in fighting over pole attachment fees and pole ownership and use issues. FP&L suggests that is a radical change of heart for a company that has fought tooth and nail over issues like pole attachment fees for years.

“Verizon has made it clear it intends to be out of the wireline business within the next ten years, conveying this clear intent to regulated utilities in negotiations over joint use issues and explaining that Verizon no longer wants to be a pole owner,” FP&L wrote to federal regulators. “Indeed, the current proposed [$10.54 billion sale of Verizon facilities in Florida, Texas and California] proves this point.”

Verizon has fought repeatedly with the Florida power company over the fees it pays FP&L to attach copper and fiber cables to the power company’s poles. Verizon Florida has repeatedly accused FP&L of charging unjust fees and at one point withheld payments to the utility worth millions.

In February, the FCC dismissed Verizon’s complaint for lack of evidence in the first-ever decision in a pole attachment complaint case involving an incumbent telephone company under a joint use agreement with an electric utility. The power company accused Verizon of lying when it promised concrete benefits to consumers if the FCC reduced joint use pole attachment rates. Suddenly, Verizon no longer seems to be interested in the issue.

verizon“Verizon has not increased its efforts to deploy wireline broadband in the last three years; and there is no evidence that Verizon has used the capital saved on joint use rates for the expansion of wireline broadband,” FP&L officials write. “Indeed, all of the evidence shows that Verizon is abandoning its efforts to build out wireline broadband.”

The power company is not about to just wave goodbye to Verizon. It filed remarks opposing the sale, claiming the benefits will end up in the pockets of executives and shareholders while customers get little or nothing. FP&L wants the FCC to enforce concrete conditions that guarantee Frontier will invest in upgrades to Verizon’s network, especially in non-FiOS service areas.

FP&L added it supports forward technological progress for the benefit of consumers, but the price of that progress should not be the abandonment of wireline customers, contractual obligations, and past promises to the FCC. The utility wrote it is not opposed to Verizon becoming a fully wireless company, but it should only be allowed to do so after it ensures that “its wireline house is in order.”

As things stand today, the utility argues Verizon is looking to abdicate on its obligation to deliver universal service and is no longer interested in maintaining its wired networks. FP&L points to Verizon’s efforts in 2013 to discard damaged wired facilities in favor of Voice Link, Verizon’s wireless landline replacement, in states including New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

“There should be no doubt that Verizon’s strategy to abandon wireline service in favor of wireless service extends beyond New York and Florida and beyond storm damaged and rural areas,” argues FP&L.

The utility points to Verizon’s successful effort to relieve itself of obligations to build a statewide fiber network in New Jersey that was supposed to be complete by 2010.

“Verizon, quite simply, has failed to build out wireline broadband in New Jersey because Verizon has no interest in doing so,” said FP&L. “As the sale of wireline facilities in Florida, Texas, and California […] clearly demonstrates, Verizon obviously is no longer interested in the wireline broadband business and sees its financial future in the wireless industry.”

That Was Fast: ESPN Sues Verizon Over Slimmed Down FiOS TV Packages

ESPN Red Logo largeESPN today filed a lawsuit against Verizon Communications, claiming FiOS TV’s new slimmed-down television packages violate ESPN’s contract provisions that forbid placing the network in an optional add-on “sports tier.”

Verizon’s new packages represent its efforts to control the cost of cable television. Custom TV offers a base package of networks for $55 with optional add-on channel bouquets covering genres like sports, lifestyle and family programming.

ESPN’s lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court, claims Verizon has no right to offer its networks as part of a theme-based package of optional channels.

A Verizon spokesperson shot back, “It looks like they are suing consumers to force them into a one-size-fits-all bundle.”

“Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want,” Verizon said in a statement. ” We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

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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