BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A statewide fight over high speed Internet came to Buffalo Wednesday, in a hearing conducted by the New York State Public Service Commission at the Central Library downtown.
State, county and local officials expressed their frustration with Verizon over the company’s partial build out of its high speed fiber optics network called FiOS. It has also become a bargaining chip in Verizon’s labor contract negotiations with its unions.
In the big picture, cities all over the northeast are clamoring for FiOS, including New York, Boston, Buffalo, and most of the major cities in Upstate New York. The PSC is holding hearings across New York concerning accessibility to high speed Internet service, and other telecommunications technologies, including satellite and wireless telephony.
Many consumers consider FiOS is superior to Time Warner Cable’s broadband service which is the only high speed Internet available in most Western New York communities including Buffalo and Niagara Falls, although some communities such as Orchard Park, Amherst, and West Seneca do have FiOS.
Consumer advocates refer to this inequality as the “digital divide” between the “haves” and the “have nots”, and Cheektowaga Councilman James Rogowski said the town might have lost out on landing a big automotive company, and thousands of jobs, because of it.
”They said in Cheektowaga, you have all the industries for delivering the product: the airport to fly it, the train system to take it. What you lack is high fiber wiring. So what did we lose in New York State? Twenty-two-hundred jobs that went to Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown accused Verizon of backing away from a commitment he forged with the company years ago to bring FiOs to the city.
“We think that this certainly expands the ‘digital divide’. We think this goes in absolutely the wrong direction, in terms of supporting all people, and providing equal access to services to all people.”
Buffalo Congressman Rep. Brian Higgins suggested, it might be time for lawmakers to consider re-regulating phone companies such as Verizon.
“It is a question of fairness. I think there should an aggressive push to push Verizon to do what it has a responsibility to do in offering services to everybody in this community, including especially underserved areas.”
Late this afternoon a spokesman for Verizon emailed us a statement saying Verizon is committed to completing its FiOs build out in the 186 municipalities where the company has television franchises.
“The company is focused on marketing these services to more subscribers in these communities, with an eye to recovering the substantial investments that we have already made,” wrote John Bonomo, Director of Verizon Media Relations.
Buffalo and the other Upstate “have not” communities do not have franchises, which Verizon would negotiate with each municipality.
Bonomo added, “we are not seeking new franchises in any new municipalities, a clear message we have delivered previously.”
See Bonomo’s full statement below:
We will file a detailed and thorough reply during the designated comment period. Technology advances have re-shaped the communications landscape over the past two decades, to the point where smartphones are an integral part of people’s lives today. Simple, traditional and highly regulated telephone service no longer is the sole means of communications, with wireless, VOIP, broadband, social media, and several other technologies from several other lightly regulated providers challenging the long-ago monopoly model.
On the criticisms of FiOS not available in Buffalo:
As we have told officials and leaders several times, Verizon has 186 television franchises across the state of New York. Each of those franchises has a buildout commitment, meaning we must build fiber to 100 percent of those municipalities. Making good on those commitment is where our current focus lies. In addition, the company is focused on marketing these services to more subscribers in these communities, with an eye to recovering the substantial investments that we have already made. For these two reasons, we are not seeking new franchises in any new municipalities, a clear message we have delivered previously.