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New York is suing Verizon over poor fiber rollout

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This move by the city could force Verizon to speed up its FiOS rollout.

New York City is suing Verizon over allegedly failed promises to bring fiber internet access to every household in the city by mid-2014. Unsurprisingly, Verizon has disputed the claim, though in doing so it has to contend with its initial contract, since with more than a million homes still without access to FiOS, its fiber-based service, it may struggle to argue that it has abided by its terms.

The 2008 contract signed by the city and Verizon gave the telecom company a citywide franchise in exchange for it completing a universal rollout of its FiOS service by mid-2014. That meant extending it to an estimated 3.1 million homes, but to date only 2.2 million can access it.

While technically the original agreement only extended to cable TV, FiOS can also be used for fiber-based internet connections, and as a result Verizon’s slow timetable has left many people in one of the most developed cities in the world with poor internet access. The dispute claims that Verizon actively ignored requests from some consumers to install FiOS in their buildings.

In a public response to the suit, Verizon stated that some building owners refused to give it access to the required infrastructure for installing such services and that it has upheld its end of the contract “100 percent,” as per ArsTechnica. It also argues that its definition of what constitutes available access is different from the definition being put forth by the city, suggesting that as long as fiber is close enough to a building, it could technically be installed there within a reasonable time, and was therefore “available.”

Perhaps trying to head the city off at the pass, the company has pledged to invest a further billion dollars in NYC fiber infrastructure over the next four years and has promised once again to extend FiOS access to all New Yorkers by 2021.

That may be too little too late. Verizon is already nearly three years behind on its initial pledge and according to the terms of its agreement, it could face monetary damages. NYC admits that the definition of what constitutes available fiber was not outlined in the initial contract, but argues that that definition is well understood and established within the telecoms industry and in that context, Verizon is in breach of its contract.

The city also claims that in some cases Verizon demanded exclusive contracts for buildings before giving the go-ahead to provide its FiOS service there, even though the FCC bans such deals for video service in buildings with multiple dwellings.