NJ: Verizon needs to start producing cable network maps

Posted on November 18, 2006 - 8:08pm.

Note:Red-Lining Alert!
from: Asbury Park Press

Verizon needs to start producing cable network maps


Verizon plans to bring cable competition to 316 New Jersey towns, promising choice, lower prices and better service. Sounds great. Unfortunately, Verizon's cable service application to the state Board of Public Utilities doesn't support its pro-consumer rhetoric. The information to back up its promises is missing.

What's missing? Most glaringly, maps.

Cable companies seeking franchises must provide maps showing where, when and how they will build their cable networks, so the BPU can ensure they aren't planning to redline low-income consumers. Maps also allow municipalities and the public to get answers to basic questions: When is cable coming to my area? Or, when are my roads going to be torn up to lay cable?

Admittedly, Verizon submits a handful of maps — maps it hides from public view — and promises to submit a map for each area it will serve 48 hours before it provides cable. Not 48 hours before Verizon starts digging, not 48 hours before the BPU has to decide its application, just 48 hours before Verizon flips the switch.

Imagine you've applied for a permit to build a house. Would you get it telling your town you'll submit building plans 48 hours before you move in?

Verizon's omission of the maps isn't accidental. Verizon claims it doesn't have to submit the maps because it's building its fiber network as a phone company, not a cable company.

Never mind that providing cable is why Verizon's building the fiber network. Or that Verizon is applying for a license to offer cable. Or that the cable license is for Verizon's entire system, not just the handful of towns for which it offered maps. Verizon wants the BPU to treat it as a phone company until the moment it offers cable in each town.

Instead of providing the BPU, municipalities and the public with the information they need, Verizon's claiming the right to special treatment. This kind of regulatory game-playing does not bode well for consumers.

Failing to provide the maps isn't a trivial issue when it comes to preventing Verizon from redlining low-income consumers. Without the maps, the BPU cannot assess who Verizon intends to serve. Verizon wants the BPU simply to trust them, but not even the Legislature trusted Verizon on this point. The Legislature was very concerned that Verizon would redline, and so forbade it.

Unfortunately, the anti-redlining provisions are weak; the maximum fines are so low it can make economic sense to break the rules. The only time the BPU really has power to force change is now — before it gives Verizon the license it wants. And to do that, it needs the maps.

The problems with Verizon's application go beyond the missing maps.

In a section describing how Verizon will serve apartment buildings, Verizon promises to bring its fiber network to each unit, unless technical difficulties make that impossible. In that case, Verizon would bring the fiber lines to a common area and then send the signal over the existing copper wires. While that approach brings TV to consumers in the building, it fails to deliver the full benefits of fiber optics.

As the world goes digital, fiber access becomes key to participating in the 21st century economy. Bringing fiber only to a common area makes the tenants digital have-nots.

What technical difficulties could prompt Verizon to do something so anti-consumer? Hard to imagine, given that Verizon routinely wires each unit in a building. Verizon's application doesn't say what the technical problems are, despite the BPU's clear requirement that it explain. Perhaps the real problem isn't technical.

Providing to-the-unit service in an older apartment building can be expensive. Unless the tenants are likely to be big Verizon customers, it's easy to understand why Verizon would want to bring fiber to the lobby only. But that's not a technical difficulty, it's a financial one.

Regulatory game-playing, unexplained technical difficulties, setting up the digital divide: These are all reasons to question Verizon's pro-consumer hype.

Today in Newark and Tuesday in Cherry Hill, the BPU will hold public hearings to discuss Verizon's application. We at the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group urge the public to participate. Tell Verizon: Show us the maps.

Abigail Caplovitz Field is legislative advocate for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

( categories: NEW JERSEY | State Franchises | Verizon )