Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
February 9, 2005, Wednesday THIRD EDITION
Verizon Communications Inc. yesterday added four more overwhelmingly white, mostly well-off Boston suburbs to the Massachusetts communities where it is deploying an advanced fiber-optic network that can deliver cable television.
The demographics of areas Verizon is targeting are raising some questions about what U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, has denounced as “broadband redlining” by telecommunications giants cherry-picking affluent areas for advanced service offers.
Affluent Wellesley and Westwood, along with more middle-class Canton and Dedham, bring to 24 the number of Boston-area suburbs where Verizon has confirmed it is building its so-called FiOS service.
Of the 24, three-quarters rank among the 50 wealthiest Bay State cities and towns, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. In 17 of the 24 communities, non-Latino whites make up 90 percent or more of the population, compared to an overall state average of 82 percent, Census data also show.
In contrast, Verizon has yet to reveal plans to install FiOS service in Boston neighborhoods. The only Eastern Massachusetts cities where Verizon has confirmed it’s building are Newton which ranks 34th in household income and Woburn, which ranks 168th.
Outside of five communities where RCN Corp. already offers cable TV, Internet, and phone services, Verizon will become the first full-fledged alternative to Comcast Corp., the dominant local cable provider. Verizon’s FiOS service can offer Internet access six times faster than cable and later this year will begin delivering TV.
So far, however, Verizon has only begun actively marketing the service in the Merrimack Valley community of West Newbury. It will begin signing up subscribers in other communities in coming weeks.
Markey, who is the senior ranking Democrat on the House telecommunications subcommittee and has called for “legal prohibitions against economic redlining in the deployment” of broadband, struck a middle-ground tone in an interview yesterday.
“I’m thrilled that Verizon is finally going to compete against cable,” Markey said. “Hopefully consumers will see lower rates and new services. However, all customers deserve access to those benefits.
“I would be very interested to see which communities are going to be on Verizon’s next list of deployment to see whether places like Malden that have diverse populations and more moderate incomes are going to be provided with these competitive services,” Markey added.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration declined to comment.
Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey said the only reason the company has so far disclosed service deployments in suburbs is because construction is faster and easier there. “We’re very anxious to provide a choice for broadband and cable services to not only suburban but also urban customers, without question, unequivocally,” Hoey said. “We know that people of a wide range of demographics are good customers for video services.” Verizon will soon name at least one Eastern Massachusetts urban community where it will offer FiOS.
Hoey said the work is easier in suburbs than cities because virtually all construction happens overhead, without the need to pull cables from underground or dig up streets.
“We can move a lot faster on the poles than we can underground,” Hoey said. Also, Verizon is still working out ways to feasibly install fiber-optic connections inside apartments and multi-tenant dwellings, which are much more common in cities than in suburbs that have mostly single-family and two-family homes.
But Verizon is also deliberately beginning to market services where it sees the best chance to make money. “It’s really a combination of two things,” Hoey said. “One is on the demand side. Where are there good markets? The other is efficiency and the cost of deploying,” which generally is lower in the suburbs, Hoey added.
Other communities where Verizon is installing FiOS are: Andover, Bedford, Belmont, Boxford, Burlington, Holliston, Hopkinton, Lexington, Lincoln, Lynnfield, Natick, North Reading, Reading, Sherborn, Topsfield, West Newbury, Westborough and Winchester.
Elsewhere in the country, who gets next-generation service, and when, sometimes gets controversial. SBC Communications Inc. has been denounced for “digital discrimination” in video rollouts by Chicago-area clergy members calling themselves the Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide. SBC denies that its rollouts are discriminatory.
State Representative Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said Verizon’s explanations for where and why it is initially deploying service here seemed reasonable.
“I’m not aware of it being a real issue in terms of communities feeling they are not being offered that service at this point, but it’s something I will be keeping an eye on,” Dempsey said.