Verizon: FiOS isn’t coming to East End, rally or no rally

11/04/2014 12:48 PM |
It appears Optimum will be the only cable provided on the East End for awhile. (Credit: Paul Squire)

It appears Optimum will be the only cable provided on the East End for awhile. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Is Verizon FiOS coming to the East End?

Short answer: Nope.

“It’s a simple no,” said Verizon spokesperson John Bonomo. “I hate to be blunt, but the answer is no.”

That won’t stop the rally that has been planned at Riverhead Town Hall for Saturday morning, where union representatives and local politicians will voice their support for Verizon to bring its fiber cable network to eastern Suffolk County.

But Mr. Bonomo said Verizon already has enough commitments to other communities that it must fulfill, adding that the company isn’t planning to invest in any new build-outs.

While Verizon held preliminary talks with eastern Suffolk County towns in the mid-2000s, Mr. Bonomo said the company is now focusing on marketing to the communities that already have FiOS service.

“Back in those days we reached out to a lot of communities because we were starting to build a business,” he said. “Now we have built that business.”

The rally in Riverhead has been organized by Communication Workers of America Local 1108, a Long Island labor union.

“What we’re looking to do is have an ability to raise awareness to the public service commission that this is an important issue for residents,” said executive vice president Michael Gendron in an interview last week. “Having one provider in this area is not working out … we want true competition.”

But even Mr. Gendron admits that “all indications” point to Verizon staying out of the East End cable business. He said the union supports FiOS coming to the area — both for the jobs it would provide its members as well as the option it would give consumers.

“It’s an important issue to the residents,” he said.

Mr. Gendron said the rally will hopefully influence the Public Service Commission to step in and put pressure on Verizon to expand its service. But Mr. Bonomo, the Verizon spokesperson, said the PSC is a regulatory entity that doesn’t have a say in what business decisions Verizon chooses to make.

“Do they have any influence or any ability to require us to build fiber and offer FiOS services in a particular area?” he asked. “No.”

Mr. Bonomo said Verizon is currently preoccupied with finishing build-outs in communities across the state, from New York City and Long Island to Buffalo.

When asked why Verizon wouldn’t install new fiber lines for solely Internet service as opposed to negotiating a TV franchise agreement with the towns, Mr. Bonomo said customers were asking for a “triple play” of services: phone, Internet and television.

“People want the triple play of services and FiOS, frankly, is a consumer service so we want to offer people a triple play of services,” he said.

Riverhead and Southold towns each currently have a franchise agreement with Cablevision, which allows the company to operate the Optimum network by using utility poles throughout the towns. Those agreements — which include a non-exclusivity deal allowing the towns to allow other cable companies to operate — expired in 2012, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

“Really, it’s a rally to try to get FiOS to come to Riverhead,” Mr. Walter said of Saturday’s forum. “I’m not saying Verizon or Cablevision is better. I’m saying competition is always better.”

Mr. Walter added that the town is currently negotiating along with Southold Town as part of a “North Fork bloc” to get a new Cablevision agreement.

Mr. Walter said Cablevision’s current offer — which he claimed would cut senior discounts — was unacceptable to the town.

The town, he said, has demanded that the new franchise agreement be negotiated based off the current one. The old contract will remain in place until a new agreement is reached, so long as all parties are negotiating in good faith.

“We’re going to stand tall with Southold,” Mr. Walter said. “Really, the towns are in the driver’s seat on this one. We can negotiate with them forever.”

Mr. Walter said the union had approached him about hosting the rally, which union reps say will also feature East End and county politicians like Legislator Al Krupski and County Executive Steve Bellone.

While Mr. Krupski said he would attend the meeting as a way of keeping abreast of the issues, the County Executive’s office could not confirm whether he would attend.

The rally is scheduled to be held at Riverhead Town Hall at 10 a.m.

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