It’s been nearly three years since Helyx Chase requested Verizon FiOS and it’s still not available in their West Philly apartment.
When they realized it wasn’t coming anytime soon, they said they had no choice but to sign up for Comcast. Comcast was twice as expensive but much faster than their Verizon DSL service.
“Waiting for FiOS wasn’t a viable option,” said Chase, a 26-year-old former freelance video editor who now works as Media Mobilizing Project’s tech manager. (Media Mobilizing Project is organizing around this issue, one that executive director Bryan Mercer said is important because consumers should have options when it comes to internet service.)
"We never thought we would get that many."
Chase’s situation isn’t unique. In the last week, the city has received more than 500 comments from Philadelphians who say they haven’t been able to get access to Verizon FiOS, according to city CIO Charlie Brennan.
“We never thought we would get that many,” Brennan said.
The city is currently investigating if Verizon made good on its 2009 franchise agreement to provide FiOS access to 100 percent of the city by the end of February, barring some exceptions, like permitting issues and problems getting into apartment complexes. Those exceptions are crucial, Brennan said, because they could explain all 500 comments the city received about FiOS delays. But they might not. Brennan said it’s still soon to tell.
The city is still collecting public comments about FiOS — you can submit yours here — and will do so for the next two weeks.
If the city finds that Verizon did not fulfill its promise, the company could have to pay up to $2.6 million in penalties, said city spokesman Mike Dunn, adding that as of last summer, the city confirmed that Verizon had completed 85 percent of its buildout.
Verizon spokesman John O’Malley said that Verizon believes it has completed the buildout and continues to work with the city to verify that.
“We welcome any input from the city and will work with the city to address any feedback they receive from residents,” O’Malley wrote in an email.
The city’s investigation has been informed by New York City, which, according to a June 2015 report, found that Verizon did not complete a full buildout.
“We do not want this to happen in Philadelphia,” Councilman Bobby Henon said during a rowdy hearing filled with striking Verizon workers on April 29.
The city is working with consultant CBG Communications to audit Verizon’s buildout (CBG is the same consultant that worked on the city’s Comcast franchise agreement negotiations), but there is one factor that’s standing in the way of the investigation: Verizon’s Philadelphia workers — members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 13000 — have been on strike for more than a month now. Verizon needs its workers to do field tests.
“We’re kind of stuck here,” Brennan said.
This was a point that was made clear at the April 29 City Council hearing, and one that the striking workers seemed to revel in. They yelled and cheered every time the strike was brought up as getting in the way of the city’s audit.
CWA also hired Media Mobilizing Project to get the word out to consumers about Verizon’s agreement to provide FiOS access to 100 percent of Philadelphia by the end of February, MMP policy director Hannah Sassaman said.
In the meantime, Brennan said the city is finding its own ways to verify Verizon’s buildout, like using the public feedback website and working with the city’s Streets Department to verify the permitting exceptions that Verizon claims.
“We have to verify what Verizon is telling us,” Brennan said. “Verizon is claiming an awful lot of exceptions here and that takes a while to cross reference.”