Verizon to Baltimore: "Verizon does not redline. We never have and we never will."
I attended last night's City Council hearing, where our elected leaders queried Verizon as to why they have not yet rolled out their next-generation broadband Internet service, FiOS, in Baltimore, while launching it in counties around the city.
There seem to be at least two camps in this debate: those who question Verizon's motives for not expanding FiOS in Baltimore on moral and socio-economic grounds. And then there are those who argue that as a for-profit business, it's really Verizon's call on where and when they roll out their services, based on market conditions.
Here's what I learned last night -- and my own still-unanswered question is at the end of this recap:
* The City Council wants Baltimoreans to know that they are not doing anything to block Verizon's FiOS service in Baltimore. Our council members are irritated -- to put it mildly -- that there is a public perception in Baltimore that city leaders have somehow taken steps to block or make it difficult for Verizon to roll out FiOS in Baltimore. That does not appear to be true in any way, according to Councilman Bill Cole and others.
* Councilman Cole and others insist the city's leaders are not beholden to Comcast in any way; Comcast does have a cable franchise in Baltimore. He recounted an encounter with a Verizon salesperson who told him FiOS wasn't in Baltimore because Comcast was friendly with elected officials because the former councilmember, Ken Harris, who was killed in a defenseless murder in 2008, worked for Comcast. Cole called that allegation "beyond insulting."
* Councilmembers Jim Kraft and Helen Holton kept hammering Tabb Bishop, Verizon's regional vice president of government affairs, on the company's FiOS advertising in Baltimore. They want television and print ads to make it clear that Verizon FiOS is not offered in Baltimore city because the company has chosen not to offer it to city residents.
Again, it may sound like semantics, but these City Council members appear to be tired of getting blamed for a lack of FiOS from constituents.
* Councilman Kraft, in talking about Verizon's coverage area for FiOS in the Baltimore area, said the city was the "hole" in the Verizon FiOS "donut." Meaning: FiOS is all around the city, but not in the city. (MMmmmmmm, did someone say donuts?)
So what did Mr. Bishop of Verizon have to say in response to the questioning? Here's a synopsis:
* "Verizon does not redline. We never have and we never will." Verizon is obviously sensitive to any accusations that they're targeting products to exclude poorer minorities. Bishop talked about the responsible corporate citizen that Verizon has been in Baltimore; it donated $1.2 million to projects in Baltimore last year, he said.
* He said Verizon offers a very high-tech fiber-optic service for businesses in Baltimore.
* "We understand it's an exciting service, but we can't be everywhere at one time," Bishop said. In 2004, when it was launching FiOS, Verizon set a goal of reaching 18 million households with it, in many states across the country. They're currently at 15.5 million. Bishop basically said Verizon thought it was time to stop the expansion and assess how it was going, and focus on growing the service in the markets they were already in, rather than continuing to launch in new ones. Other markets they're not in include Boston, Albany, Syracuse, and Buffalo.
THE QUESTION REMAINS:
After talking with Tabb Bishop myself last week by phone and listening to him speak last night, I realize that the basic question of "why not Baltimore" was asked but never really answered.
We still have not heard Verizon's rationale for avoiding Baltimore and heck, while we're at it: Boston and Buffalo and Syracuse and Albany, too.
Specifically, by what standards did Verizon choose who would get FiOS and who would not? Did they throw darts at a map of the United States?
It's not enough to say "we can't be everywhere" -- I think people generally understand that. But why is Baltimore the hole in the donut, to use Kraft's analogy? Choices were made probably following a set of criteria. Verizon must have made a business decision (one hopes) on a set of facts, and the city wants more clarification on how they reached that decision.
Mr. Bishop noted that Verizon Maryland has been based in Baltimore since the late 1800s -- is it odd that the regional headquarters of this company hasn't rolled out its premiere service in its own city?
Verizon does not want to disclose proprietary information about its business decisions, but clearly, there was some kind of internal decision-making or scorecard that they used to choose where to roll out FiOS in communities across the country.
I think Baltimoreans and the City Council want to know the criteria, as complex as it may have been, they used to roll out FiOS and, thus far, to exclude Baltimore from the roll-out. What do you think?
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