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Public Advocate Bill de Blasio today assailed the City and Verizon for falling behind schedule in providing access to high-speed Internet, especially in the lowest-income communities. Five years into one of the biggest franchise agreements issued by the city, roughly half of homes still have no access to fiber network connections—most of them concentrated in low-income areas like Upper Manhattan, the South Bronx, Western Queens and Central Brooklyn.

In a letter to the Bloomberg Administration’s Chief Information and Innovation Officer, de Blasio called for the release of all data on the company’s track record, and demanded a plan within the next 30 days to get installation back on schedule and ensure equitable access across all communities.

“There was a lot of fanfare when this deal was struck about reaching young people and entrepreneurs in struggling neighborhoods. But here we are in 2013—and it’s clear where Verizon’s priorities really are. We can’t accept a city where a family’s income dictates access to something as fundamental to the 21st century as high-speed Internet,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Under Verizon’s 2008 franchise agreement, all New York City residents are supposed to have access to fiber optic networks by June 2014. As a benchmark, the contract required the company to reach more than three-quarters of City residents by the end of 2012, but according to data released through the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, only half of New York City’s 3.4 million housing units had access to fiber broadband services at year’s end—putting the company far behind schedule. Brooklyn and the Bronx lagged furthest behind, with only 40 percent and 46 percent of household having access to fiber, respectively.

In a series of color-coded maps, de Blasio highlighted how areas of the City still without service coincide with low-income neighborhoods. Scroll down for the Public Advocate’s factsheet on the availability of fiber optic broadband or download here (.pdf)


Read the Public Advocate’s letter:


April 26, 2013

Rahul N. Merchant
Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer
Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications
255 Greenwich, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner Merchant,

Five years ago – on April 15, 2008 – Verizon announced a “historic investment” into New York City which the company indicated would “reach to each and every borough, neighborhood, boulevard, avenue and street, without regard to the demographics of a particular area.” In addition to guaranteeing that every New Yorker would receive access to its Fiber Optic Service (FiOS) by June 30, 2014, the company proclaimed the agreement would “throw open the doors to competition, providing real choice and real value.”[1] Under the watch of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), it appears that New Yorkers have been taken for quite a ride.

According to the City’s franchise agreement with Verizon, 79 percent of New Yorkers were supposed to have access to FiOS by the end of 2012. According to data obtained from the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, just over half of New York City homes – roughly 1.7 million residences out of 3.4 million total housing units – had access to fiber broadband services as of December 31, 2012. This is unacceptable.

To make matters worse, Verizon appears to be targeting its service in more affluent communities—where the company’s profit-margins are greatest and neglecting lower income communities where these services are often needed the most. My office has compiled maps clearly highlighting these outrageous discrepancies in service. Neighborhoods like Washington Heights, High Bridge, Astoria, Woodside, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick have been largely excluded from FiOS to date.

For a city where so many households—46 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey—cannot afford Internet access, Verizon’s promise to drive down costs through competition remains unrealized. The company’s failure to bring competition to the lowest-income areas of the city has sustained an unacceptable status quo.

Pursuant to the authority granted to my office by Section 24 of the Charter of the City of New York, I hereby request the following information:

  1. Beginning in February 2009, Verizon New York Inc. was required to maintain records of the number of units and service areas passed by the FiOS network in each borough, with accurate maps [§11.3]. Please provide copies of any and all such records and maps. 
     
  2. §5.1.4 of the franchise agreement requires that the median income of units that have been wired to not exceed the average household income of all households in New York City. Please provide any and all records or documentation related to income levels in the areas in which the FiOS network has been installed to verify that this clause has been followed.
     
  3. There have been three required “checkpoints” to date, according to §5.1.2 of the franchise agreement, June 30, 2010, June 30, 2011, and June 30, 2012. Please provide copies of any documentation and/or progress reports submitted by Verizon New York Inc. at these checkpoints.
     
  4. According to §6.3.24 of the franchise agreement, the City has the right to send a consultant to do a Proof of Performance test. How many of these tests have the City performed, and what were the results?

I urge you to also begin posting this information, as well as future service updates, on DoITT’s website. This way, the public can more regularly track Verizon’s progress in the run-up to June 30, 2014 deadline for citywide broadband.

These investments in our city’s communications infrastructure are too important to accept anything less than full equity and transparency. In that spirit, I urge you to put forward plans within the next 30 days to get installation back on schedule, and ensure service is rapidly extended to low-income areas of the city to correct the current inequity.


I look forward to your prompt response to this request.

Sincerely,

Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate for the City of New York


[1] “Verizon Files Application and Plan to Offer TV Throughout Five Boroughs of New York City,” News Release: Verizon Communications Inc. (April 15, 2008). Available Online at http://newscenter2.verizon.com/press-releases/verizon/2008/verizon-files...

 

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