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Yearning For FiOS


Despite what you may have heard from civic leaders, upstate New York areas currently not served by Verizon FiOS won't be getting the high-speed internet service soon. And maybe, not at all.

From Central New York to the Catskills and the Southern Tier to the Capital Region, people are clamoring for high-speed internet, and they've heard good things about broadband, especially when it comes to Verizon's fiber optic FiOS service. But Verizon says it has no plans to bring that service to places where residents currently make do with less than desirable or no service at all, such as large parts of cities like Kingston and Albany along with Delaware, Sullivan and Schoharie Counties.

The Washington Post reports that Verizon has developed new technology that could make FiOS 10 times faster than the cutting edge Google Fiber system. Verizon spokesman John Bonomo:    "It is a good product. And services, TV, internet and phone, when they're delivered over fiber optics, they're far and away better than the, frankly, 1940s, 1950s kind of technology that the cable companies implement and have as part of their network."

Thursday night in Delmar, the state Public Service Commission was scheduled to hold another in a statewide series of public hearings on its telecommunications assessment report, which involves phone, cable TV and internet service. Most of the hearings have focused on FiOS, and in many cases residents have been inspired to ask local government leaders to convince Verizon come to their communities. Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo says with downtown infrastructure being rebuilt, this would be an ideal time to lay cable before streets and sidewalks are improved.  Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who has witnessed FiOS thrive in the suburbs, says the city is interested.   "We certainly would love to see FIOS here."

She can only hope.   "We would like nothing more than to provide it everywhere. We have a lot of commitments in the communities where we have television franchises, and we need to market the service deeper into those communities to make the service more profitable," said Bonomo.

Communications Workers of America spokesperson Candice Johnson argues Verizon is shirking responsibility.   "New York City certainly is a great example of a place where Verizon has committed, but is breaking its promise to build out FiOS."

While Johnson could not provide specifics regarding upstate New York, the union argues that lack of a FiOS buildout in ANY given city or region threatens thousands of CWA jobs. The union and the utility have locked horns over wages and benefits, and there's been talk of a strike.  "Verizon made some very specific agreements with many jurisdictions in New York, in New York City, in states frankly throughout the footprint. Pennsylvania. New Jersey. That it would build out FiOS. FiOS broadband to these communities. Now, Verizon wants to renege on that."

Verizon counters that the labor dispute and negotiations have driven CWA into deliberately getting public officials enthused about FiOS when there are no plans to bring it to those municipalities.  "Part of their playbook is to tarnish our reputation in the public. So they bring to the forefront all of these issues where they believe that we have a shortfall and asking us to bring FiOS to a community when we really don't have any intentions."

In August 2011, 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike. It lasted about two weeks. Strike or not, Verizon is sticking to the argument that it has to meet all current obligations before it can ever consider expanding into other territories. For now, all the cities and counties hoping for better broadband can do is make do with whatever service they already have.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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