By PHIL NOBILE
In a move met with boisterous applause and approval from members of the community, Harrison officials passed an agreement to bring Verizon’s fiber optic cable services to the majority of the town, ushering in competition amongst cable options for the first time in Harrison history.
The measure, approved unanimously by the five members of the all-Republican Town Council, will allow almost all residents within Harrison’s borders to choose between Verizon’s FiOS services, which boast high speeds and connectivity thanks to fiber optic cables, versus Cablevision’s Optimum services.
The decision delighted many members of the community, who showed up in great numbers at the June 19 council meeting to show support for the Verizon plan and, in many cases, disapproval of Cablevision’s current offerings.
“Cablevision should not be monopolizing our choice of services,” Beth Lieberman, a West Harrison resident, said. “I have been complaining for many years about not having the ability to choose between Cablevision and Verizon, and our internet and telephone service has been so terrible with Cablevision.”
The majority of the infrastructure for Verizon to implement its FiOS service is already installed throughout the town because Verizon originally hoped to launch in Harrison more than five years ago. According to former Harrison Mayor Joan Walsh, a Democrat, Verizon inexplicably dropped out in 2008 with more than 98 percent of the town wired and willing. She said the company may have felt at the time Cablevision was “too entrenched” in the area.
Changing their minds half a decade later, the community and Verizon representatives alike expressed joy at the new service, which will be available in “hopefully” two months, according to Deputy Village Attorney Chris Cipolla. The application has to go through the New York Public Service Commission, then Verizon can start offering their FiOS product.
“It took many years to get here, and Verizon is very eager to start bringing FiOS service to Harrison residents,” Pamela Goldstein, assistant general counsel for Verizon, said. “Verizon has worked diligently with Harrison to introduce the benefits of competition through a robust franchise agreement that is legally sound, fulfills Harrison’s cable related needs and will enable Verizon to compete head-on with Cablevision on a competitively-neutral basis.”
Despite having the majority of needed infrastructure installed, not all areas of Harrison will be eligible for FiOS.
The town attempted to renegotiate with Verizon in April 2012 to build FiOS infrastructure for the rest of the town, but, between 2008 and 2012, Verizon adopted a policy in which it would not build any more infrastructure for its service, Cipolla said.
As of now, more than 94 percent of Harrison will be able to have the service. The remaining 6 percent of the Harrison consists of new subdivisions with below-ground wiring that will not be adapted for Verizon’s FiOS, according to Cipolla.
“It’s called a partial franchise agreement because roughly 6 percent of the town will not be able to receive it because Verizon was unwilling to expand their footprint further,” he said. “We’re significantly built out, it’s just Verizon unfortunately wouldn’t budge further, and it was a decision the mayor and the Town Council had to make.”
Of the portion of the town that is FiOS ready, 9 percent of it will take a further five years to totally equip for Verizon’s service.
Other terms of the agreement include free television services for many of the municipal buildings throughout town. Town Hall, the Harrison and West Harrison public libraries, fire houses, Harrison police headquarters, all Harrison public schools and more will be given free service.
But not all parties involved were gung-ho about the news of Verizon’s six-year franchise agreement.
Adam Falk, a vice president of public affairs with Cablevision, which has six years remaining on a 10-year franchise agreement with the town, found fault with the terms of the Verizon franchise agreement, citing an unfair playing field and fewer benefits—in terms of public access channels and free cable in public places—to the Harrison community.
“We are certainly not afraid to compete with Verizon; we compete with them in hundreds of communities around the New York state area,” Falk said. “We simply ask that the franchise be provided on a level playing field.”
Falk also criticized the free cable offerings in Harrison’s numerous public buildings. According to the agreement, Verizon is offering the basic package of channels to the free locations, while Cablevision, according to Falk, offers “significantly more.”
Verizon and Goldstein denied any significant difference in terms, saying Cablevision’s willingness to compete with Verizon is false, and nitpicking the new agreement is a delay tactic.
“Despite their pro-competitive rhetoric, their advocacy is simply the reaction of an entrenched, incumbent provider who would prefer to avoid or delay the arrival of meaningful competition,” Goldstein said. “At the present time, the field is as tilted in Cablevision’s favor as could possibly be.”
Cablevision also touted its current complete availability throughout Harrison as a point of potential contention with the Verizon agreement.
“The fact is [Cablevision] provides service to virtually 100 percent of the residential areas of the town…with the proposed franchise, there will be parts of the community that remain unserved, creating a system of haves and have-nots,” Falk said. “Verizon has avoided areas where their costs would be higher, and that should be addressed in their franchise agreement.”
Debate over services to the town aside, Harrison residents felt the competition itself was more of a benefit to the community overall.
“One way or another, the citizens fund the operations of the town, and this whole discussion about agreement of services provided by Verizon versus Cablevision should be irrelevant,” Harrison resident Bob Funck said. “Competition for part of the town is better than no competition at all.”