If you didn’t have one already, here’s another reason to resent Verizon, which its critics are saying took a deal – years ago – to bypass some regulations in exchange for building a fiber network to every residential address in NJ’s 70 most densely populated municipalities. And they haven’t done it, avoiding extending their fiber network to 155,000 addresses, more than 55,000 of those in four NJ cities.
Who says so? Well, four New Jersey mayors of those towns, to start; Newark’s Ras Baraka, Jersey City’s Steve Fulop, Paterson’s Jose “Joey” Torres and Trenton’s Eric Jackson. They represent more than 750,000 New Jersey residents. Along with the NJ mayors, together the mayors signed on to the letter of complaint represent more than 12 million Americans. The letter is also signed by NYC mayor Bill deBlasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor of Philadelphia and the mayors of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Albany, Buffalo and other cities. The mayors also say they’re concerned about Verizon’s treatment of its workforce in ongoing contract negotiations.
In 2006, the NJ legislature passed the Cable Franchise Act, a business boon for exactly one company – Verizon. The deal gave the company full statewide franchise rights. In exchange, Verizon was supposed make its high-speed Internet service available to the state’s 70 densest municipalities, regardless of their income level. In the almost ten years since, Verizon hasn’t delivered, say the mayors, alleging the company is using a using a loophole in the law to avoid hooking FIOS internet in the low-income parts of their cities. The project was supposed to be done by the end of 2015. It won’t be. The company has been accused of cherry-picking which businesses and neighborhoods get high-speed service, and filing waivers with BPU to delay fulfilling their obligations.
This leaves a great number of New Jersey’s poor families and seniors on the slow side of the digital divide. It also hurts some of the state’s small businesses, who need high-speed internet to compete and can’t get it.
Verizon rakes in $100 million per hear in state-funded contracts and has gotten more subsidies and tax breaks from NJ than any other state. And for all this, Verizon is sliding out of its obligations.