(Photo by Gregoire Molle)
Oscar Ordonez thought he could get access to faster internet.
He’d seen the ads from Verizon for its fiber-optic broadband service, FiOS. “I’m a trained technician,” Ordonez said, “I’m familiar with speed.”
Ordonez said he called the telecom giant several times to ask when he could get the service, and the company repeatedly told him to call back later. “They’re still working on it, it’s not ready, that’s what they say,” Ordonez said. He says he last called Verizon two weeks ago.
Ordonez lives at 34th Street and 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, in one of dozens of buildings in New York City that still can’t benefit from the FiOS technology that Verizon was supposed to make accessible to every New York City residence by June 30, 2014, according to a 2008 agreement.
A city audit released on June 18, 2015 slammed Verizon for falling short.
New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DoITT) collected evidence showing that the city was not fully equipped with FiOS infrastructure. “Verizon continued to refuse to accept orders from residents, and in some cases told residents that Verizon had no plans to provide cable television service in their building,” the audit reads.
“We have completed the installation of fiber throughout the city,” Verizon Director of Media Relations John Bonomo wrote in an email to Technical.ly Brooklyn. “Our $3.5 billion investment and the 15,000 miles of fiber we have built have given New Yorkers added choices and a robust set of advanced, reliable, and resilient services.”
Yet, the audit released on June 18 shows complaints from a number of residents. In Brooklyn, city data show that nine buildings have issued formal demands for faster internet.
“The fundamental obligation on [Verizon’s] part was to put down fiber-optic cables” all over New York City, and Verizon has not met this obligation, said a high-ranking city official who asked not to be named.
“It’s crazy that in 2015,” the city official said, that New York still struggles with universal broadband access. “We pay a lot of money to get very slow internet,” the official said.
For David Solomonoff, president of the Internet Society of New York, the audit revealed a “fundamental failure of Verizon’s business model.”
Solomonoff said that there is a “real conflict between the way they do business and the actual needs” of New York residents. “There have been significant job cuts at Verizon,” Solomonoff said. “If Verizon cannot do this, and is unable to do it, they should make the physical infrastructure they’ve built available to other companies.”
Almost a third of Brooklyn’s population lacks broadband access, according to a report issued in December 2014 by New York City’s Comptroller.
The 2008 agreement only required Verizon to give FiOS access to every New York City household, not to businesses. The agreement reads that Verizon may also make its service available to businesses. And some of them in Sunset Park are craving for faster internet.
Karina Salazar works for Atlantic Travel, a shop where people can come surf the internet for two bucks an hour, or make money transfers. It’s located at the corner of 60th Street and 5th Avenue.
“We want the fiber-optic,” Salazar told Technical.ly Brooklyn, with a broad smile almost stretching from one bright-red earring to the next. “All the transactions are online.”
The current internet service the shop receives, she explains, forms a word cloud of doom: “slow, disconnect, no sending,” are the words that come to mind.
Seven blocks away, though, Atlas Travel Group, a cruise agency, has benefited from having FiOS technology for more than a year.
Owner Jose Fernandez remembers the days before his shop got fiber-optic broadband. “DSL, it stinks,” he said. “When it rained, snowed in the winter,” the internet was “always up and down.” FiOS is more reliable, Fernandez said.
Meanwhile, some New York City households are still waiting to get a better broadband.
DoITT wrote in its audit that it received complaints in 2015 that revealed that “Verizon continues to respond to inquiries from residents in New York City that FiOS is ‘unavailable’ in their buildings even though Verizon claims that all households in the City have been passed by fiber.”
“It is getting access into buildings that is the challenge,” wrote Verizon’s Bonomo. He says that in some cases, landlords didn’t want Verizon to bring the fiber into their buildings, explaining the seemingly random distribution of FiOS access in some parts of the city.
“They’re passing the buck,” said the unnamed city official. “The bottom line is: they haven’t delivered on their promise” to cover 100 percent of New York City with access to FiOS technology, the city official said.
Verizon also wrote in its response to the audit that the report makes “a variety of irresponsible, inaccurate, and unsupported factual and legal claims,” adding the report “relies on ‘anecdotal evidence.’” DoITT wrote in the report that it had to rely on such evidence because the agency was “subject to serious limitations imposed by Verizon” during the audit, including limited access to Verizon’s documentation and database systems.
Technology, of course, moves quickly.
Sitting in the barbershop Good Friends, on Brooklyn’s 60th Street, Carlos Tavarez isn’t waiting for FiOS. He says he only accesses internet on his phone, through his data plan.