How Big Cable Makes New Yorkers Pay More For Slower Internet
As 40,000 Verizon employees clog New York’s streets with one of the nation’s largest strikes in years, and with no end in sight, it’s worth mentioning one thing those strikers are incontrovertibly right about, among many others:
The availability, speed, and cost of New York City’s internet are all pretty dismal.
Take FiOS, Verizon’s high-speed, fiberoptic broadband internet service that, if made available to every home in the city, would finally catch New York up to its most technologically advanced peers around the world.
In fact, Verizon made a deal with the city in 2008 to wire any of its 3.1 million households that wanted an alternative to Time Warner and others, with a completion date set for June 30, 2014. Two years behind schedule, Verizon has no intention of fulfilling their end of the agreement, and large parts of New York City are still without FiOS, even where demand is overwhelming.
Last June, the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications released a report excoriating the slow implementation of Verizon’s promises. In 2012, it found, 1.7 million homes were in areas where FiOS could be installed. By the end of 2014, that number was just under 2 million, an increase of less than 300,000.
“Through a thorough and comprehensive audit, we have determined that Verizon substantially failed to meet its commitment to the people of New York City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio on NY1 in June of last year.
The seemingly intentional slowdown of bringing FiOS to New York falls squarely on protesting workers’ list of grievances. Verizon already wants to cut operational costs by decreasing worker benefits and outsourcing jobs, and any large effort to expand FiOS beyond the current bare minimum of coverage (which happens to be concentrated in wealthy areas) would require hiring new employees, strengthening the union with whom they currently refuse to negotiate.
This is not the Verizon New Yorkers were promised in 2008.
In comments to the New York Times after the deal with the city was made eight years ago, Verizon Telecom president Virginia P. Ruesterholz bragged that “No other provider has said it will build in all of New York […] The other competitors haven’t built everywhere, but just taken their turf.”
Well, that’s all it was: talk.
The practice amongst internet providers of “carving up” service areas, as Ruesterholz described to the Times, is used to minimize competition and keep costs high.
As a result of the increased consolidation brought on by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the city operates with a handful of large cable providers: Verizon, Time Warner, AT&T, and Comcast, who are widely reviled by New York’s residents, and a small handful of others.
And while all of these companies repeatedly claim that their various expansions have resulted in increased competition, the reality has been far different. Rather than citywide coverage by — and competition between — all the major providers, New York resembles a mosaic of provider strongholds.
These same companies have led the fight against net neutrality, the notion that Internet service providers should allow open access to any IP address on the web regardless of its source. Without that, one of the governing principles behind the creation of the internet would be lost, and providers would charge customers more for visiting certain websites.
It was a battle Big Cable almost won, with a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission that proved the nation’s tech administrators are woefully under equipped to govern the internet, Comcast Corp v. FCC.
While that decision ended the commission’s use of ancillary jurisdiction, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation described as “a catchall source of authority that amounts to ‘we can regulate without waiting for Congress so long a the regulations are related to something else that Congress told us to do,'” it also opened the door for further challenges to the FCC’s power.
A second challenge, Verizon Communications Inc. v. FCC, led to the brief death of net neutrality, as the D.C. Circuit court ruled that the FCC chose the wrong legal framework to enforce it. The result was a months-long public commenting period which resulted in 4 million comments by Americans, a triumph of civic engagement in support of net neutrality. The corporations turned petty — Verizon’s response was written in Morse code.
Nevertheless, the cable companies have continued to try to turn the tables in their favor with lobbying efforts and campaign donations. In the 2014 election cycle, Comcast spent $5 million on political donations and $17 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose website OpenSecrets.org tracks money in politics. Verizon spent over $2 million in donations and $13 million on lobbying, AT&T spent $4 million on donations and $14 million on lobbying, and Time Warner spent just over $1 million on donations and a further $3 million on lobbying.
In 2012 in New York state, Verizon spent $850,000 on lobbying efforts, according to numbers collected by Long Island publication Newsday,
In Paris, Zurich, Hong Kong, and Seoul, people pay as little as $30 a month for high speed internet that can download high definition movies in under 10 seconds. It’s high time the city’s residents paid less for more, too.
Photo: Flickr user jseliger2.