Monday, July 13, 2015

My Own Non-Scientific Take on the City-Verizon Spat

I've been following Crain's NY Business' chronicle of the fight that the De Blasio administration is picking with Verizon over its failure to roll out FIOS citywide. In a nutshell, Verizon struck an agreement with the Bloomberg administration in 2008 to install fiber optic cable (trademark FiOS) internet access throughout the city, ostensibly so that areas served by only one cable provider (Time Warner, Cablevision, etc.) will have another choice.  This makes sense on the face of it. After all, cable companies are currently the only broadband providers in certain areas. Sure, you can go with another "provider" if you want - you might get mailings announcing "alternatives", but the fact is that in most areas, those companies have to rent capacity from the main cable company in the area, for the simple reason that those are the only cables in the ground.

My bugaboo with the whole scheme is that while attempting to lay all this fiber, Verizon has completely neglected the existing copper wire network that runs throughout New York. It is falling apart - and that fact is not being covered all that extensively.  One article in Ars Technica from 2014 mentions it briefly, as does the above Crain's article, again, briefly.

Let me paint a picture at how bad it has gotten by talking about two buildings that my firm manages. The first is on West 11th in Greenwich Village, a building with residential and business tenants.  At least every two months, and sometimes more often (depends on the weather conditions), I am forced to meet a Verizon repair tech at this building to let them through an apartment to the back, where they try to find a "good pair" in the phone box. This box is older than the hills, and it's full of rust. But when I have asked about replacing said box, I'm told that Verizon isn't replacing ANY copper phone equipment.

The problem is sometimes within the line between the building and the hub, which is an apartment building on the next block south. The tech must then go back and forth between this building and that, trying to find a connection that will hold. Once, I was told it was not the box, but the line between the hub and the box, which - in contradiction to Verizon's claims in the articles - runs above ground. You can see the phone wire strung all along the back yards of the block! When the line "goes bad" - meaning that it gets exposed and nicked/broken somehow - the tech has to "splice" it, meaning cutting the damaged part of the line out and basically taping the two ends together.  The tech who told me about the line said "that line has so many splices in it I don't know how it still works."  When I asked about getting a new copper line run - yes, you guessed it!  "They're not replacing anything."

 So, the tenants in this building constantly lose the phone service they pay so much for. And it's not just that building! My firm manages an adjacent building that has also had similar phone problems.

I looked into FiOS as an option to get away from the crumbling infrastructure and found to my amazement (though not so much now that I've been reading articles telling of similar experiences all around the city) that FiOS is NOT available on that block. This blew my mind. I understand that Verizon may not wish to wire every small building right off the bat (though seven years in one would hope they'd made some headway), but this building is right between two major thoroughfares - Fifth and Sixth Avenues - that surely must have fiber available? They don't have to bring it that far, and they have a building manager - ME - who is willing to get them access - all so they don't have to waste thousands of dollars visiting this building's back yard every six to eight weeks. Recently I head that another building towards Fifth Ave had successfully managed to get FiOS installed. How did they do that?

Which leads me to the other building, also on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron. This building is not a large office building but it happens to have line running through it that serves some adjacent buildings as well. Within the past two months I have had at least five technicians needing access to that basement to repair copper phone and data connections! Again, I am completely shocked. The copper here in Silicon Alley is no better maintained (though it is apparently underground)! And I listen to the techs speaking with their home office, trying again to find "good lines". There isn't enough capacity to service all the commercial and residential tenants in that block!  The tech suggested I try to get some of them to sign up for "fiber", which would alleviate the crowded copper box.

Today I had a conversation with a very nice lady from the Verizon business office, and she informed me that she knew "no more FiOS installations were being scheduled for the rest of the year".  !!!!!!  In the meantime Verizon is spending millions of dollars running fiber "past" buildings but telling potential customers that it's not available to them. What kind of shell game is that? It reminds me of the recent scandal about the military contractors who built all kinds of equipment that only got destroyed once it was shipped to the Middle East. And all the money spent on advertising a service that no one can get? There's just no answer to that.

Following which, I might as well air my frustration at the fact that I am seeing many many of those little internet antennae popping up all over the place in Manhattan subway stations... but I am not getting any service!  I travel all over the city (forget the fact that not a single underground station in Brookyn has service), and I have seen these tell-tale signs of service in Washington Heights, East Harlem, and the Lower East Side - some for eight months or longer - but zero bars in any of these stations (I'm looking at YOU Second Avenue!).

I've said before that Transit Wireless' strategy seems completely haphazard. Their blog states that they have begun installing equipment in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, but their Lower East Side stations? Nary a word - oh wait, I see that Delancy is part of the Phase 3 rollout - but no announcement as to when that will happen?

Oh, and the website seems to have been hijacked, or given up. It takes you to a website about call forwarding. It does not, as suggested on the Transit Wireless website, show you which stations have service.

No comments: