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Public Knowledge: Verizon/NYC Suit Highlights Definitional Challenge

Public Knowledge is using New York's lawsuit against Verizon to make a point about what constitutes broadband availability.

 New York City filed a  filed suit in the state's Supreme Court March 13 claiming Verizon promised to deliver its FiOS TV to all residents, and had not delivered on that promise. FiOS said it was in the process of meeting its commitment and said the City was turning its back on investment other communities are seeking and encouraging.

“Verizon promised that every household in the city would have access to its fiber-optic FiOS service by 2014. It's 2017 and we're done waiting," said Mayor Bill De Blasio. Verizon says it has spent $3.7 billion to install thousands of miles of fiber in the city, passes all households and can provide service within 14 days of getting a request. 

Verizon and NYC appeared to be looking at the same glass differently.

“The allegations that Verizon has failed to build out to nearly a million New York City households it is obligated to serve are troubling," said Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel for Public Knowledge. "Although new broadband deployments are costly and time intensive, broadband providers have a responsibility to comply with their franchise agreements. Moreover, it is imperative that modernization of the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure provide an upgrade for all.

“While there is disagreement between New York City and Verizon regarding whether the company has met its deployment commitments, this dispute highlights the ongoing need for policymakers to clearly define what they mean when describing the availability of broadband service.

“There is widespread bipartisan support for promoting broadband deployment to unserved and underserved areas in any federal infrastructure legislation," he said. "Lawmakers should ensure that households and multi-dwelling unit buildings are actually able to subscribe to broadband services that are ‘available’ to them, and that ‘availability' includes service options that are affordable for even low-income consumers. . It would be easier to achieve this affordability if, for instance, landlords didn’t prohibit the installation of competing service provider equipment in residences due to contracts with existing service providers. This practice harms consumers and competition by driving up costs and needlessly delaying the technology transitions.”

Mike Farrell contributed to this story.