By PHIL NOBILE
Providing a possible alternative when it comes to internet, television and telephone options, Verizon FiOS looks to bring its fiber-optic cable service to the Town of Harrison pending a scheduled public hearing.
At its June 5 meeting, the Town Council scheduled a public hearing for June 19 to discuss bringing Verizon FiOS to Harrison. The service, which boasts high speeds and connectivity thanks to fiber-optic cables, would be the lone alternative to Cablevision’s cable and internet service, Optimum.
Touting competition as beneficial for Harrison residents, Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said he and the Town Council approached Verizon for its services after residents requested alternatives to Cablevision.
“There has to be more than one grocery store, more than one barber in the town,” Belmont said. “We were built on competition.”
Verizon’s needed infrastructure is already installed throughout the town when initial agreements were being made with the town more than five years ago. When asked why those previous negotiations broke down despite the already-installed infrastructure, Belmont and Chris Cipolla, deputy village attorney, could not provide an answer.
Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican and former Harrison mayor from 2002 through 2008, said it was the administration of former mayor Joan Walsh, a Democrat, which succeeded his, that should have continued negotiations with Verizon because the town was “largely done” with the deal.
According to Malfitano, the town was waiting for the City of White Plains to finalize its deal with Verizon and the agreement was nearly complete before he lost his re-election bid to Walsh, the town clerk at the time.
“By-and-large we were ready to go,” Malfitano said. “In my mind, I can’t tell you what happened specifically except to say the next administration could not complete the negotiation.”
Malfitano credited the Belmont administration with going “great lengths” to get Verizon back to the table and finalize a deal, adding “this was not an easy thing to do…there was a decision made at the [Verizon] corporate level to not add any more capacity to their FiOS system, and we wrestled with that for years until we got them to soften on their point of view.”
When asked what happened to talks with Verizon, Walsh, who took office in 2008, said negotiations went as far as a public hearing being scheduled around Labor Day in 2008 when Verizon inexplicably dropped out.
“We negotiated all summer long, and they backed out [the] last week in August, saying that, because they hadn’t completed all the wiring yet, they were entitled to back out,” Walsh said. “More than 98 percent of the town was wired [for FiOS], and my understanding was that they had two apartment houses that were not wired.”
According to Walsh, because Cablevision’s agreement was up at the same time, the town offered Verizon and Cablevision the same agreement. Walsh said no reasons were given as to why Verizon backed out, but speculated “they felt they could not compete on an even basis with customers,” and that Cablevision was “too entrenched” in the area.
With Verizon’s mind apparently now changed, the proposed franchise agreement with Verizon New York, Inc., calls for an identical agreement to the one Cablevision currently enjoys with the town.
The proposed agreement with Verizon also includes a six-year deal for Verizon to remain in Harrison and states service must be provided to “all residential dwellings” throughout town.
The anticipated schedule for installation calls for 93 percent availability to Harrison residents after 6 months from the signing of the agreement and 100 percent availability throughout Harrison after five years.
Part of the potential deal calls for free television service for many of the municipal buildings throughout the town. Town Hall, the West Harrison and Harrison public libraries, fire houses, Harrison police headquarters, all Harrison public schools and more will be given provider service from the company without any expenses attached.
Cablevision currently offers the same deal to the town’s numerous public buildings.
The proposal calls for Verizon to offer an array of common cable options, such as high definition television stations, digital video recorders, pay per view and more. To activate the services for a resident, a Verizon technician would have to connect to the series of fiber cables already built throughout town.
When asked about Verizon’s potential plans with the town, spokesman John Bonomo said “Verizon looks forward to the hearing and the ability to provide cable TV service to Harrison residents.”
Cable companies across the nation face dismal approval ratings by the public in a variety of categories.
According to the 2014 cable industry study by the consulting group cg42, 53 percent of more than 3,000 respondents to an online survey said they would leave their current cable company if they had the choice. More than 73 percent described the companies as “predatory in their practices” and say they take advantage of the lack of choices; 69 percent said there was too little competition and 58 percent said there was no “real choice” when it came to different options and providers.
Whether or not the Harrison community will feel some comfort from new choices remains to be seen with the public hearing approaching next week.
“We’re going to hear what the community has to say,” Cipolla said.