Tuesday, August 26, 2008

FTTH - Fast to the Hospital(?)

Group questions safety of Verizon product
Common Cause says problems found during inspection of FiOS systems require state action

ALBANY -- The watchdog group Common Cause is asking state regulators to reconsider Verizon's cable TV license for New York City after state inspectors found potential safety hazards with its FiOS fiber-optic systems.

The state Public Service Commission approved Verizon's franchise agreement with the city last month, calling it a "sure-fire win for consumers in New York City."

But Common Cause and three other consumer advocacy organizations are challenging the decision and want the PSC to temporarily freeze Verizon's rollout of FiOS TV, a product that competes directly with cable and satellite companies.

Routine inspections found that a "high proportion" of FiOS installations around the state failed to adhere to the National Electrical Code and were not properly grounded, according to the PSC. Verizon has filed a plan with the agency to inspect past installations and make sure new ones are checked by a quality assurance team.

"Verizon should not be permitted to benefit from its creation of a safety hazard," Common Cause said in an Aug. 14 petition filed with the PSC, which oversees utilities, telephone companies and cable TV firms.

Verizon has been rapidly rolling out FiOS across the state, first offering phone and Internet service. The TV service has been deployed more slowly, since negotiating franchise agreements in every municipality as required under state law is expensive and time-consuming.

In the Capital Region, FiOS has been deployed in Bethlehem, Colonie and Guilderland, but TV is not offered yet.

"We believe this petition is without merit," Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said in an e-mail Monday when asked about the Common Cause filing. "And we will not speculate as to what it would mean if it had any merit. This has been filed by a group that has stood in the way of progress, and opposed our entry into the NYC market every step of the way. New Yorkers are enjoying the benefits of TV choice and competition, and a state-of-the-art network."

Bonomo has said previously that Verizon is working with the PSC on the matter and is confident its installation procedures are in compliance. After more than four years of installing the systems, there have been no safety problems, he said.

On Monday, Chris Keeley, associate director for Common Cause New York, said his group believes the PSC should have waited to vote on the New York City cable franchise until there was more discussion about the installation concerns.

"The public didn't have a chance to review it," Keeley said. "We have some serious problems with how the process works. There's a lot of implications here."

Keeley pointed out that one of the five PSC commissioners, Patricia Acampora, voted against granting Verizon the franchise specifically over the FiOS installation issue.

In a written dissent, Acampora said she received Verizon's remediation plan on July 15, the day before the monthly meeting. Such dissents are rare.

"I did not have enough time to properly evaluate it, and I do not believe customers are receiving proper notification," Acampora wrote. "Verizon should remedy this problem before moving
forward. Competition is important to all New Yorkers, but at what price?"

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