Review: After Smoke Clears, FiOS a Hit

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 5:47 PM

NEW YORK -- If the installers hadn't almost burned my house down, I'd say Verizon's new cable television and high speed Internet service was fantastic.

In fact, ever since the smoke cleared, I've enjoyed more than 100 TV channels, a responsive remote and fast Internet connection that rarely falters. If the installers figure out how to tell where power lines run in a wall, the service is nearly flawless.

Verizon Communications Inc., for those keeping score, is a telephone company that's been branching out into other things, such as cable TV. Cable companies, meanwhile, are broadening their offerings to include high-speed Internet and telephone service.

Verizon, which serves 28 states and Washington, D.C., is spending $23 billion to make fiber-optic connections _ which it calls FiOS _ available to 18 million homes by 2010. By bypassing the old copper phone lines, the company has much more bandwidth available than anyone else. (AT&T Inc. also is upgrading its service with fiber, though the cables do not extend all the way to each home.)

While it's been available where I live for a while, it wasn't until I moved within the Philadelphia suburbs that the company made me a pitch that was too good to refuse: All my telecom services _ landline, cell phone, cable and Internet _ on one bill.

The package is about $200, $10 a month more than it used to cost me to buy cable from Comcast, and my landline, Internet and wireless services from Verizon or Verizon Wireless. But I figured that $10 was worth it for faster Internet speeds of up to 5 megabits per second downstream (and 2 Mbps upstream) and 150 free cable channels _ dozens more than I was getting from Comcast. Verizon threw in a voice mail box, caller identification service and unlimited calling with no extra charge.

And, I'll admit, I was more than ready to stick it in Comcast's eye after years of consistent 5 percent annual price hikes, mediocre equipment and a remote that barely worked.

I knew I was taking a risk, but how bad can cable TV delivered by a phone company be? Pretty good, as it turns out.

Though my 26-inch Samsung set couldn't take advantage of the service's high-definition offerings, the standard-definition picture quality was at least as good as offered by Comcast.

Verizon's remote and set-top box provided work amazingly well, compared to the Comcast equipment I was using. All the usual channels appear to be there, plus some. On the sports front, I've gained several new versions of ESPN, I now have the NFL Network, and I didn't lose Comcast SportsNet (the two rivals inked a deal letting Verizon carry CSN, home of many local Phillies, Sixers and Flyers games, last year).

We've also benefited from channel inflation in home improvement and cooking networks, and gained a slew of new nature, science and history-related channels, many of which I'd never heard of. One, DIY, repeats some of our favorite shows from other networks, letting us catch programs we used to miss. We've also gained children's channels such as Noggin.

On the Internet side the service has been exemplary. Whereas our old DSL modem had to be reset frequently, I've only had to reset our FiOS modem once. It may be a tad slower than a cable connection, but unless you're downloading gobs of big files, who's the wiser? It's more than fast enough for Webkinz and the occasional cartoon or game.

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