14 Mayors Have To Join Forces And Beg Verizon To Upgrade Its DSL Network

from the please-sir-may-I-have-another dept

We’ve long noted how it’s now Verizon’s modus operandi to take millions in subsidies and tax cuts from state or local governments in exchange for delivering fiber optic broadband upgrades. Except time and time and time again those fiber upgrades never actually arrive, and just as often the impacted states or cities let Verizon get away with it. Now that Verizon’s focused solely on more profitable (read: capped with overages) wireless service, the telco has not only frozen FiOS fiber upgrades, but it’s actively disconnecting many unwanted DSL customers completely.

In the hopes of getting Verizon to change course, fourteen mayors from cities in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Massachusetts have joined forces and written a letter to the telco (pdf) literally begging the company to upgrade its network and give a damn about its paying customers:

“Our cities lie within the core footprint of Verizon Communications and have long valued the quality jobs and fiber upgrades that Verizon promised to bring to our communities…But consistently and increasingly, our consumers have complained that FiOS service is not available to them. These are not isolated complaints ? there are millions of residents in communities throughout the Northeast who have been left without service, and with no plan or promise for future resolution.”

And again, these aren’t just neighborhoods that Verizon promised (and was paid) to upgrade to fiber, these are areas where Verizon is now not even willing to repair DSL lines — even after natural disasters. You see, it’s a much better deal for Verizon if you ditch your unlimited-consumption DSL line and instead sign up for a shared wireless data plan with overages of $15 per gigabyte. And with no fixed-line broadband competition and an industry awash in regulatory capture, Verizon doesn’t have to much care what you think about it letting taxpayer-funded fixed-line infrastructure rot on the vine.

Indeed, the Mayors make it clear they’ve raised these concerns with Verizon repeatedly, and the company simply couldn’t care less:

“Based on irrefutable evidence of your company?s poor service record, lack of transparency and accountability, or demands for exclusive agreements with landlords throughout the region, we are deeply concerned that you have not acted like a good corporate citizen and that an incomplete FiOS rollout will result in decreased competition and the reduction of benefits to consumers throughout the Verizon footprint. As elected officials, it is our obligation and our responsibility to bring these complaints to your attention.”

That sound you hear is Verizon engaged in a good belly laugh, realizing that, like most incumbent ISPs, it all but controls most state legislatures and regulatory agencies, which is why few if any of them have done much to help shore up last-mile broadband competition. Verizon’s now going state by state getting these loyal politicians to sign off on gutting all remaining regulations governing DSL and POTS (plain old telephone service), under the promise that wireless will finally unveil the amazing telecom future the telco was paid to deliver with fiber years ago.

So while it’s understandable that the Mayors of cities like New York, Buffalo, Newark, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are annoyed at Verizon, they might find it to be more productive to write to state leaders who’ve spent the better part of a generation now idiotically throwing money at Verizon in exchange for hot air and legalese.

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Comments on “14 Mayors Have To Join Forces And Beg Verizon To Upgrade Its DSL Network”

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34 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Writing to the wrong people

Forget begging Verizon to do anything, they should be writing letters to the public, making it clear that Verizon isn’t interested in holding up their end of the various bargains, and if they want a decent service, then it’s going to have to come from elsewhere.

Urge the public to put pressure on their (theoretical) representatives to open the playing field, and offer the same terms that Verizon both took and ignored to anyone willing to step in and fill the void. If Verizon isn’t interested in meeting their obligations then drop them, and find someone who is willing and able to do so.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Writing to the wrong people

Won’t do a bit of good. What tends to be missing in all these “reports” (not just Techdirt) is that Verizon (AT&T, Comcast, et al) WROTE the contracts, and the Cities (States, etc) SIGNED THEM.

I used to do Alligator Hunting for a large permitting firm. Whenever you’re handed a pre-written contract, you can be damned sure there are alligators hiding in the small print (usually in the phrasing) just waiting to bite you in the ass.

From the contracts that have been made public, there are so many “exceptions” that the providers really do NOT have any responsibility to do anything at all – not even provide service to current consumers.

The problem is with the morons who signed such one-sided contracts.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Writing to the wrong people

That may make forcing them to hold up their end of the contract this time around an exercise in futility, but the idea is to put enough pressure on those being bought that are writing the laws that they start at least pretending to care about something other than who they’re selling out to next, hopefully leading to the elimination or overturning of state laws that have been passed to ensure that Verizon and the other teleco companies don’t face competition.

Get rid of those laws, and they can then start offering smaller ISPs the same deals that Verizon got, and I imagine a good many of them would jump at the chance.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Writing to the wrong people

Generally speaking, you can’t break this kind of contract until it expires.

What you CAN do is take every “legal” action possible to cripple the off-side of the contract.

Off the top of my head, I’d say redefine the locality’s Rights of Way. Find the choke points where the backbone and major feeders come into the area, then either revoke the RoW or put a tax on it so high that the “providers” are forced out. And do NOT do this to the “low income underserved” areas – smack it right on the Snob Hill neighborhoods.

Then THEY’LL break contract by not supplying service at all, and you can move in competition by giving said competition a “local tax break for new service” (dress it up anyway you want) that allows them to bypass that punitive tax.

And YES, Verizon et al WILL sue over this. So the “mayors” need a very good legal stalling strategy so that by the time there’s a court resolution new Providers will already be established.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Writing to the wrong people

“Generally speaking, you can’t break this kind of contract until it expires.”

A contract with an illegal clause is not enforceable. Governments have eminent domain laws as well.

The government can rewrite the laws to void whatever contract they wish.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Writing to the wrong people

It must also be taken into consideration that a contract requires consideration. IOW, courts may rule an entirely one sided contract as invalid. If the courts can rule that the telcos were given something in return for providing the public with nothing they should be able to rule against the contract and make it void.

Pyrosf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Writing to the wrong people

In this case the Mayors are trying to show that there was explicit deceit in the contracts. To build a case they need to show more than just one market with the same type of agreement ended up the same way.

This is an absolutely huge case to take on, a single city would not have the power to bring suit. Moving the suit to the national platform allows the cities to team up for a single case.

Today’s announcement is all about showing Verizon that its victims are now working together. It gives Verizon the choice to uphold its contract terms (which is hard, they may have already let go many of the FIOS contractors) or get ready for a lawsuit as now that the announcement has been made, its actually illegal for Verizon to go on a document burning binge.

(The law is something like, if you know or should have known of a pending action, destroying documents before discovery is really bad)

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Writing to the wrong people

Waiting for the “But government is EEEVILLL!” crowd to weigh in

As long as we have people who are willing to subscribe to that nonsense we’ll get nowhere. It is government’s job to implement the will of the people and it is the people’s job to hold a sword over the neck of their representatives — i.e. the risk of not being elected next time around — to make the government do its job properly.

Unless we are vigilant they won’t behave. And as long as we let them get away with taking dictation from the likes of Verizon in the name of the market, they’ve got no reason to. Let’s hold these people to account and if they won’t do what they said they’d do, let’s make them give the public’s money back or at least get out of the way and let competitors take up the slack.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Writing to the wrong people

Here’s a thought: what’s the penalty to the governments for cancelling the contract with Verizon? I can see issues with breach of contract if they allow competition, but what if they just DROP THE CONTRACTS because they no longer have faith in Verizon’s ability to deliver?

Sure, Verizon has been able to set up a moving target, letting politicians continually change its contract obligations as time passes, but there comes a point where you can say “Verizon cost taxpayers $2bn and has nothing to show for it — we’ll eat the $2m in penalties and allow community broadband and other competitors.” Make this VERY public. Highlight which politicians are signing the moving target contracts and bills. At that point, if the politicians and Verizon want to salvage anything from this mess, they’ll have to play nice (or really REALLY [and obviously] dirty).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Writing to the wrong people

“Urge the public to put pressure on their (theoretical) representatives”

Except the mayors are our local representatives and they have a lot to do with broadband access locally. It is up to them to ensure the public interest is served within their communities.

and it’s good news that communities are finally starting to see how they are being scammed out of broadband and they are starting to see the extent that local governments are responsible. They are then lobbying their local representatives to do something. Hopefully this will mean that more local governments will either force broadband providers to provide more affordable and better services or allow competitors within their communities or consider building their own broadband networks. Good for the people for finally catching onto the scam that the telco industries have been playing against local governments for a long time now. It’s about time the people rise up against this corruption.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No, they are simply responding to an angry public. They wouldn’t have done anything if it weren’t for the public pressure. They don’t otherwise care and who knows to what extent these local governments have been secretly bought so that broadband providers can get their way. If you really want anything done it is up to the public to continue to put more and more pressure on local and state governments and the federal government.

The extent that public pressure is getting mayors to at least pretend to care (at this stage) is encouraging. It suggests a more informed public (no thanks to the bought and paid for mainstream media of course). Hopefully more and more public pressure will get governments to actually do something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, this isn’t fully true. Municipal governments have been fielding both the pressure from voters AND having their hands tied by state regulations. They haven’t been able to make good on campaign promises because Verizon changed the rules. In other words, this hits them where it hurts: reputation and employment. And no elected official is going to be happy with that (not to mention having their home internet get cut off with no ability to reinstate it).

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re missing the point. The contracts that these cities and states signed were basically something that renders down to this:

Give us a billion dollars and we’ll upgrade all your residents to FIOS.

Codicil 1331: Unless we don’t want to, then we’ll just keep the money.

What people aren’t understanding is that this kind of thing is COMPLETELY LEGAL. It’s the dumbasses that SIGNED these contracts that need to be ousted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

One big hurdle to a good candidate: Anyone you’d actually want as a politician is able to make a better living doing something else.

Another: We would also have to rely on the bad ones to make changes that remove themselves, or not tamper with a change that would remove them. If self preservation is one of the defining features of a bad Politian, it isn’t going to happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Two words

Eminent Domain should be the nuclear option. It has its place, but it’s kinda messed up for the government to simply seize assets for “fair compensation”.

Think of it this way, what happened if a city took Verizon’s current assets, and just gave them to a different incumbent like AT&T, who totally promises to “get it right”, or even made it city-owned without the proper support to make expansions work?

Again, ED isn’t all-wrong, but I’m not sure that it’s all-right either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Psh You can’t beg.

The city’s police force has limited resources and as you’d expect and just to be clear their priority is protection of citizens over inanimate objects like your infrastructure. If you’d like to assist with this deficiency simply keep your promise alleviating citizen unrest or return what was paid to you plus inflation and interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve read through the letter, and it has left me with the impression that it is very much a shot across the bow at Verizon. Twice in the letter the phrase “failed to meet contractual or legislative deadlines” is used.

It gives the impression that the contract has been carefully reviewed, along with the legislative side, and the letter is putting Verizon on notice that sh*t is about to go down.

I may be wrong, but that is the impression I’m left with.

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