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Verizon's Massive East Coast FiOS Scandal: 41 Percent Coverage Using 'Weasel Room' Math

06/21/2015 12:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016

Definition of "Weasel Room": Using specific terms, words or phrases with 'selective' accounting to distort, puff up or obfuscate the facts.

Verizon harmed America's East Coast; not just in one or two states, but from Massachusetts down through Virginia. Using Verizon's own press releases, combined with U.S. Census and FCC data, here's the reality:
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Starting in the 1990s, Verizon and its previous incarnations, Bell Atlantic and NYNEX, had made commitments to wire their entire territories, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, not to mention the wiring of schools and libraries, replacing the aging, legacy copper networks to deliver a fabulous, fiber optic future. And yet, as we sit here in 2015, we find that along the way, Verizon was able to weasel out of these commitments and ended up with an embarrassing, lousy 41% covered -- and this is based on 'weasel room" mathematics, where even the published numbers are suspect.

And to add insult to injury, as we documented in The Book of Broken Promises, customers paid billions per state for upgrades most will never get.

And Here's The Promise:

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Click to read the previous story about these commitments.

First, I should say -- FiOS is a real, live, fiber optic service that uses a real fiber optic wire, and even with all the caveats about pricing or deployment issues, unlike AT&T, who used the old, legacy copper wires for U-Verse, if Verizon had actually deployed as was promised and delivered what customers paid for, all of these states, communities and users would have benefited.

With the recent revelations about Verizon's deployment of FiOS in New York City, and our previous examination, which included New York State, New Jersey and Pennsylvania's coverage with fiber optics, and I decided to continue and detail the fiber optic deployments along America's East Coast.

Unfortunately, after reading a number of Verizon's state summaries of how great the company is and how well they have been serving each state, I noticed a pattern. First, here's the hype. This is an excerpt from Verizon Massachusetts' press release about their wireline networks, for 2014. Sounds great, huh?

"BOSTON, April 28, 2015 -- Massachusetts consumers, businesses and government agencies continued to benefit from Verizon's 2014 investment of more than $331 million in its industry-leading fiber-optic and wireline networks.

"As the Bay State's communications, broadband and video needs grow more sophisticated each day, Verizon's strong networks and assets are uniquely positioned to meet those needs and enable future growth," said Allison Cole, region president for consumer and mass business. "Our network technology enables commerce to thrive, businesses to open new markets, students to attain knowledge from anywhere, and all of us to connect to what matters most."

"At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 1 million Massachusetts homes and businesses. Verizon has placed more than 18,000 miles of fiber optics in Massachusetts - enough to stretch to the state borders from Boston to Pittsfield 131 times (or stretch from Boston to London six times)."

Impressive until you realize that the release didn't reveal the most important question:

How many housing units and businesses are in the Verizon Massachusetts footprint and can actually get the service?

NOTE: As we discussed in previous articles, please be advised that the statements by the phone companies, cable companies and regulators can use different wiggle room words, like 'premises', 'locations', 'businesses', 'small businesses', 'homes', 'households', 'housing 'units', "passed", etc., and each has different meanings, but also different end results.

NOTE: I didn't include some of the other territories in California or Florida, which are being sold off, or some states, like Delaware or Rhode Island. Also, AT&T controlled Connecticut until they sold it off.)

Walk of Shame

This chart is the reciprocal of the opening chart, and shows how many locations in Verizon's state territories were not upgraded.

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Let me walk you through how we compiled this information and use Verizon Massachusetts, which has an upsetting and incredible 29% being able to get any upgraded FiOS service.

1) Coverage

Verizon claims it has "more than 1 million homes and businesses" covered with FiOS TV and FiOS Internet in Massachusetts.

"Fiber-optic networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued deployment of its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services. At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 1 million Massachusetts homes and businesses. Verizon has placed more than 18,000 miles of fiber optics in Massachusetts - enough to stretch to the state borders from Boston to Pittsfield 131 times (or stretch from Boston to London six times).

2) Next I went to the U.S. Census Quick Facts for Massachusetts.

There are 3.4 million 'locations' or 'premises', which is housing units and businesses. I added 'households' to demonstrate the differences between 'housing units' vs 'households'.

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3) According to the FCC, Verizon MA Control's 99.9 percent of the State.

Next, I needed to find out what percentage of the State Verizon Massachusetts covers. So I go to the FCC. It stopped publishing all basic information in 2007.

Verizon Massachusetts happens to be part of the original 'Bell Companies" that were part of the original Bell system, which was part of the original AT&T.

And I remembered an obscure chart in the "Statistics of Common Carriers", which gave the percentage of the Bell company lines in a state, by year. So I go back to 1996, before any merger, and do the other years till the last year of 2007.

Click to see the actual page for the year 2007 from the FCC's Statistics of Common Carriers.

According to this, Verizon Massachusetts has 99.9 percent of the lines in the Bay state.

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Verizon New York, by contrast had 89.2 percent of the State in 2007.

4) Basic Math Then Kicks In:

a) Verizon MA has 1 million locations covered.
b) Verizon MA has 99.9% of the State. (We rounded it to 100%.)
c) There are 3,410,326 'Locations' in the State.
d) 29.32% of the locations are covered by Verizon MA

5) Don't Take My Word for This.

Here are the actual Verizon quotes for each state. Notice that the wording is almost identical.

"Fiber-optic networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued deployment of its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services. At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 1 million Massachusetts homes and businesses. Verizon has placed more than 18,000 miles of fiber optics in Massachusetts - enough to stretch to the state borders from Boston to Pittsfield 131 times (or stretch from Boston to London six times)."

"Fiber-optic networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued deployment of its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services. At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 4 million New York and Connecticut homes and businesses. Verizon has placed more than 161 million feet of fiber optic cables in the two states."

"By the end of 2014, Verizon said, its FiOS TV and Internet services were available to more than 2.1 million homes and businesses in New Jersey, and it has placed more than 22,000 miles of fiber-optic cables in the state."

"Fiber-optic networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued deployment of its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services. At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 1.3 million Maryland homes and businesses in parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties."

"Fiber-optic networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued to deploy its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services, in Virginia. At year's end, FiOS services were available to more than 1.35 million households and businesses in Northern Virginia, Richmond and surrounding areas, and the Hampton Roads region."

"Fiber-optic Networks strengthen communities, and last year Verizon continued deployment of its 100 percent fiber-optic network, with its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services. By the end of 2014, FiOS services were available to nearly 100,000 homes and businesses in the District."

Conclusion and a few More Caveats

How did Verizon get away with this? How can it have failed to even do 50 percent of their territories with FiOS?

In the previous article I detailed that Verizon's coverage area, as claimed, may have more holes than Swiss cheese, thus dramatically lowering the information the company supplied about its FiOS coverage. There are, for example, the holes in deployment reported in New York City and other locations; while an area may be listed as completed, this doesn't mean the service is 'available'.

Or take, Verizon PA, is required to have 100 percent of their territory completed by the end of 2015. The company claims it has 96 percent completed, but they are simply making it up as Verizon put in this caveat that 'deployed' has nothing to do with a customer being able to get the service.

Footnote to Verizon Pennsylvania's calculations of its broadband coverage.

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And the Pennsylvania weasel room extends in all directions. The original commitment was fiber to the home with speeds of 45 Mbps in both directions to 100 percent of the State by 2015. Then, through a sleaze deal, the required speed was reduced to 1.5 Mbps in one direction and the final insult was to allow the company to substitute critical infrastructure for Verizon's expensive wireless broadband service where 10 Gigs cost $60.00 -- about 4 HD movies on Netflix, vs DSL, which is slow but at least not 'prohibitively' priced-- and as you can see from this quote, Verizon slapped rural customers in the face.

Verizon can make any excuse it wants, but at the end of the day, they failed every state that they controlled.

I leave you with a partial collection of quotes compiled for "The Book of Broken Promises" by Bell Atlantic and NYNEX, taken directly from their annual reports, press statements, etc. about the upcoming, fabulous, fiber optic future. This was all hype and was used to change state laws to give the companies more profits as virtually none of this was ever built; FiOS wasn't deployed until at least 2005-2007, depending on the state.

NYNEX, 1993 Annual Report

"We're prepared to install between 1.5 and 2 million fiber optic lines through 1996 to begin building our portion of the Information Superhighway."

Bell Atlantic 1993 Annual Report

"First, we announced our intention to lead the country in the deployment of the information highway.... We will spend $11 billion over the next five years to rapidly build full-service networks capable of providing these services within the Bell Atlantic Region."

And the money would be spent to serve 8.75 million homes by the end of the year 2000.

"We expect Bell Atlantic's enhanced network will be ready to serve 8.75 million homes by the end of the year 2000. By the end of 1998, we plan to wire the top 20 markets.... These investments will help establish Bell Atlantic as a world leader...."

NYNEX Filing with the FCC:

"On July 8, 1994, NYNEX filed two Section 214 applications for authority to provide video dialtone service in certain areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. NYNEX supplemented each of these applications on July 29, 1994. The application to provide video dialtone service in Massachusetts proposes a system that will pass approximately 334,000 homes and businesses. The application to provide service in Rhode Island proposes a system that will pass about 63,000 homes and businesses."

  • PA Senate OKs Fiber Optics Bill, Philadelphia Daily News, June 24, 1993
  • PA Legislature Compromises on Fiber Optics Bill. The Measure Calls for the State to Be Wired by 2015. Philadelphia Inquirer, June 25, 1993
  • N.J. Bell Rewiring Approved By State. About 56 Million Miles of Wire Will Be Replaced with Fiber Optic Cable, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 23, 1992
  • Fiber Optic TV Coming to N.J. Philadelphia Daily News, November 17, 1992
  • Bell Clears a Hurdle in Quest to Offer Video. A Judge Overturned Part of a Federal Law. Now Bell Atlantic Will Try Offering Video Services Regionwide. Philadelphia Daily News, July 28, 1993

Bell posts its itinerary on information highway, Baltimore Sun, December 2, 1993

"Racing to solidify its competitive position before its telephone monopoly disappears, Bell Atlantic Corp. outlined an ambitious timetable yesterday under which 1.25 million households -- some in Baltimore -- will be able to order up movies on demand and place video phone calls before the end of 1995... In subsequent years, the regional phone company plans to add 1.5 million homes a year to its fiber-optic network, ensuring that some 8.75 million homes of the 11 million homes in its mid-Atlantic territory will be able to tap into advanced video and electronic services by the end of 2000."