Apartments Are Tougher Target for FiOS

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 5:09 PM

-- For Tony DiCicco, a 19-year-old in Doylestown, Pa., the future of Internet access is close at hand, yet so far away.

In the single-family homes surrounding the rowhouse community where he lives, fiber-optic Internet service is available from Verizon Communications Inc., which has embarked on a $23 billion project to replace its copper phone lines.

But in DiCicco's community of Westwyk, the backyards are controlled by a homeowner's association that hasn't given Verizon approval to dig, despite DiCicco's lobbying, which started in 2005.

"The problem here is we have a lot of senior citizens who don't care about FiOS," said DiCicco. He's studying for a telecommunications degree and is convinced of the superiority of fiber optics over copper lines and cable.

Verizon is pushing to get FiOS to apartment buildings, rowhouses and other shared dwellings, but for a number of reasons, the going has been much slower than the rollout to single-family homes. In some cases where it is available, the FiOS service an apartment building does get is a technical compromise that could limit future Internet speeds.

At the end of last year, Verizon had rolled out its fiber infrastructure in areas with 6 million homes. A quarter of those homes, or 1.5 million, were in multi-dwelling buildings, according to Eric Cevis, vice president of Verizon Enhanced Communities.

But most of those 1.5 million were not actually able to get the service right away. The company had permission from building owners to sell to FiOS to only 337,000 of those homes.

Verizon stresses that it's not discriminating against apartment buildings and renters, who have lower average incomes than home owners. It's doing a complete overhaul of its infrastructure, and knows it has to tackle apartment buildings to complete it. Apart from Internet service, the fiber allows the company to provide cable TV programming and lowers the cost of maintaining its network.

In areas with single-family homes, Verizon pulls fiber down the street or behind the houses, either on utility poles or below ground. If a homeowner orders FiOS, Verizon installs an Optical Networking Terminal, which is about the size of a large shoe box, on the side of the house, and connects it to the main fiber line. The customer's computer, phone and TV set can then be connected to the ONT.

For multifamily buildings, the procedure is more complicated, for two main reasons.

For one thing, Verizon needs permission from the owner of the building, the co-op board, or whoever else controls the common areas, to wire the building. As DiCicco found, getting people interested in new technology isn't always easy.

It's the job of Verizon Enhanced Communities to market the service to building owners. It got started in 2005, a year and a half after Verizon started connecting single-family homes.

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