A Closer Look

FiOS Speeds Up Web, Phone and TV Access

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005

Verizon Communications Inc. is offering a new deal in high-speed Internet service in parts of Maryland and Northern Virginia. But it's still a bit of a secret.

Using a new, growing fiber-optic network, possibly coming to a neighborhood near you, Verizon can provide a connection faster than most digital subscriber lines or cable-modem services. The hair-thin strands of glass that make up this network can also carry up to four telephone lines to each subscriber.

What's more, FiOS, as Verizon calls its new service, can carry video signals as well. The company says it will introduce television programming in some markets by the end of the year but has not yet announced what its TV offerings will be in the Washington area, what they'll cost or when this service will go on the air (so to speak).

Verizon offers different tiers of service. Its base plan offers download speed of up to 5 million bits per second (Mbps) and uploads of 2 Mbps for $39.95. A $49.95 plan revs up the download speed to 15 Mbps; a $199.95 option offers 30 Mbps downloads and 5 Mbps uploads for those who really, really need to move a lot of bits around quickly. Small discounts are available to customers who also subscribe to Verizon's local and long-distance service.

The company has been quietly rolling out the network since last year, with next to no advertising, and now offers it in parts of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Northern Virginia, as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring in Maryland.

Verizon spokeswoman Sharon Cohen-Hagar said last week that the company has not been trumpeting the service much beyond the neighborhoods where it is available, in the hopes of managing customer expectations. (See washingtonpost.com for a full listing of neighborhoods where the service is, or should soon be, available. Verizon offers some details online, at http://www.verizon.com/fios , and via a toll-free line, 888-438-3467.)

So, for speeds that beat a DSL or cable-modem connection and cost a few dollars more, what's the catch? For some customers, one worrisome aspect is that upgrading to this fiber network constitutes a one-way trip. When Verizon installs the fiber-optic connection to your home, the technicians cut down the old, copper-line connection to the telephone network and will not replace it if you later decide to cancel. So the next folks to buy your house will inherit Verizon's fiber connection with it.

The service will also take up one of your power outlets. While phone lines carry their own power, fiber-optic lines do not, so FiOS subscribers need to provide an electrical outlet to power the new box that will go on the side of the house when FiOS is installed. If there is a power outage, a 12-volt backup battery can keep the phone line running for eight to 12 hours. Verizon includes one battery; replacements cost $7 to $12.

Whether fiber is worth the investment might depend on what you need in an Internet connection. Robert Borochoff, a computer scientist who lives in Chevy Chase, said that when Verizon's FiOS network becomes available in his neighborhood, he'll probably pass, because it's more speed than he can use. "There's nothing [on the Internet] today that fully takes advantage of that bandwidth," he said. "It's nice to flash big numbers, but am I getting any value for that today?"

FiOS user Tina Earman, in Falls Church, said she wasn't sure that she would recommend the service to friends or neighbors. Though she has verified that her connection is as fast as Verizon promised, she said, "I can't really tell that big a difference" when surfing the Web.

But for those who need to swap large files on the Internet, the difference can be dramatic. Bethesda resident Stuart Winokur got Verizon's FiOS service installed on Monday and said he has noticed a major difference when he transfers massive documents between his home and his office in Alexandria.

"So far, it's absolutely breathtaking," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company