Add Philadelphia To The Long List Of Cities That Think Verizon Ripped Them Off On Fiber Promises
from the rinse,-wash-repeat dept
Verizon’s modus operandi has been fairly well established by now: convince state or local leaders to dole out millions in tax breaks and subsidies — in exchange for fiber that’s either only partially delivered, or not delivered at all. Given this story has repeated itself in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York City and countless other locations, there’s now a parade of communities asking somebody, anybody, to actually hold Verizon’s feet to the fire. Given Verizon’s political power (especially on the state level) those calls go unheeded, with Verizon lawyers consistently able to wiggle around attempts to hold the telco to account.
In Pennsylvania, the story is much the same as elsewhere. Verizon was able to convince state leaders in the ’90s to dole out billions in handouts for state-wide symmetrical 45 Mbps fiber broadband. But a decade later when people finally noticed fiber was nowhere to be found, Verizon managed to convince state leaders to effectively forget about the obligation entirely. Fast forward another decade and, after striking a 2009 franchise deal with the city of Philadelphia (again promising full city deployment of its FiOS fiber broadband service) you’ll be shocked to discover what happened:
“Philadelphia government officials are investigating whether Verizon has met an obligation to bring FiOS service to all residents of the city. Verizon obtained a cable franchise agreement from the city in February 2009, and the deadline to wire up all of Philadelphia passed on February 26 of this year…Philadelphia seems skeptical about whether Verizon actually met its obligation, but it is still looking for proof. The city set up a webpage asking residents to fill out a form to “tell us whether you have tried to order Verizon service but have been told by the company that service is not yet available in your neighborhood.”
Traditionally, ISPs can get away with this not only because they effectively own state legislatures, but because nobody in any part of government actually bothers to audit company deployment promises. What passes as an audit generally involves the ISP submitting its own claims that regulators fail to fact check. That’s why Philadelphia leaders are being forced to crowdsource whether or not Verizon met its promises. Meanwhile, Verizon tells Philly city council leaders that they’re unable to offer statistics right now on their FiOS deployment because, uh, unions:
“Philadelphia should learn from New York’s experience, Philadelphia City Council member Bobby Henon said during a hearing two weeks ago. ?We do not want this to happen in Philadelphia,? Henon said, according to an article published by Technical.ly Philly. Henon wanted good data, but Verizon said it couldn’t provide it yet because of the ongoing Verizon workers’ strike. Verizon also said, ?Any claims made at the hearing that we haven?t completed our obligations of our franchise agreement are untrue,” according to the article.”
At this point there’s plenty of blame to go around for the fact that history just keeps repeating itself without getting fixed. For one thing, just like in New York City, city leaders keep signing sweetheart deals with endless loopholes designed by Verizon lawyers, then acting shocked when Verizon actually uses those loopholes. For example, several city agreements let Verizon simply pass a set total of homes with fiber (anywhere up to several blocks away), instead of technically “serving” them. Other contracts contain language letting Verizon dodge or buy their way out of deployment obligations if certain TV uptake metrics aren’t met.
These are clauses cities have been warned repeatedly about but choose to ignore. Bad deals are struck behind closed doors by one administration, with subsequent city leaders left holding the bag. By that point Verizon can successfully argue that they technically met the terms of such deals, because the terms of such deals were designed to be malleable. Granted that doesn’t excuse Verizon’s proclivity for ripping off taxpayers on an industrial scale, but this dance of dysfunction wouldn’t be quite so embarrassingly uncoordinated if cities would stop signing deals that promise the moon, but deliver stinky cheese.