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Verizon bringing fiber optic service to Boston

Dudley Sq, Dorchester to be among first service areas

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Verizon bringing fiber optic service to Boston
Mayor Martin Walsh, flanked by Verizon representatives and City of Boston officials, announces a partnership with Verizon to bring a high-speed fiber-optic network to Boston. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Over the next six years, Boston business and residential consumers will gain a new option for high-speed broadband internet access. Mayor Martin Walsh and Verizon announced last week that Verizon is launching a $300 million effort to replace its copper-based Boston infrastructure with a new fiber optic network.

At a press conference April 12, city officials announced that construction of the new network will begin as early as this summer. The fiber-optic lines will come first to Roxbury’s Dudley Square, Dorchester and West Roxbury, followed by Hyde Park, Mattapan, and other areas of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

“This will dramatically increase internet speeds for both residents and businesses,” said Walsh. “This upgrade brings many benefits to students, to seniors, to small businesses and innovators.”

Walsh ticked off additional features Boston can expect, including support for new mobile hotspot lending at libraries and “smart city” technologies such as sensors to improve traffic safety along Massachusetts Avenue. Verizon and city officials emphasized a priority on serving every Boston neighborhood and the benefits of a fast fiber-optic network to small and startup businesses — a growing number of which are locating outside the city’s downtown and Seaport districts.

No details were provided on the cost of Verizon’s Fios service for households and businesses, just a prediction that increased choice will drive down prices. Currently, Comcast is the only broadband option in most of Boston, with RCN available in a few areas.

A business necessity

Gilad Rozenzweig, executive director of the Roxbury-based startup incubator Smarter in the City, welcomes the prospect of an additional provider and fiber-optic service.

“Fios is coming, and it’s coming to Dudley first. That’s good,” Rosenzweig told the Banner. “Fiber optics will bring much faster internet, which can really help support businesses that rely on the web.” And in 2016, that means all businesses, he stressed.

“You can’t do anything if you don’t have internet working,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s the number one thing for business, and that’s true even for a restaurant or a mom-and-pop store.”

Daniel Noyes, co-director of the Boston-based digital equity nonprofit Tech Goes Home, reacted to the Verizon news with cautious enthusiasm.

“It’s a really good step forward, but I’m not doing cartwheels in the street yet,” he said.

“Competition is important for quality, but also to make it affordable. There are so many people in Boston who have the option for internet access but can’t afford it.”

Tech Goes Home offers discounted computer hardware, assistance with internet access signup, and neighborhood-based internet use training for people ranging from small children to elders. The vast majority of the families TGH serves are low income, Noyes said, with 75 percent earning less than $25,000 annually, and less than half of those households having internet access at home.

“We’re seeing these digital disparities growing, with a whole population being shut out,” he said.

Noyes was pleased to hear that Dudley Square would be one of the first areas to get high-speed fiber optic capability.

“I think the mayor’s team should be congratulated; I think they see the importance of digital equity,” he said. “But I don’t think going from one company to two is going to change things overnight.”

While libraries offer free internet access now, Noyes said that the demand is often higher than the capacity.

“You get on a waiting list. And then the library closes,” he said. “I hope [the Verizon plan] leads to more affordable access at home. If you have a 10-year-old, you don’t want them doing homework at the library at night — you want them doing it at home.”

It was unclear whether the fiber-optic network construction process will bring job opportunities.

“Whether or not we add or create jobs remains to be seen. That depends on the success of the project,” said Verizon Wireline Network Operations President Bob Mudge. “What it will do is maintain thousands of jobs that exist today.”

On the web

Fios information and resident voting: Verizon.com/BostonFiber

Send a question to Verizon: bostonfiber@verizon.com

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Tech Goes Home: Techgoeshome.org

Verizon Strike

The day after the announcement, 36,000 Verizon workers throughout the East Coast went on strike, protesting a number of proposed changes to worker rights and benefits.

In Boston last Thursday, local employees from the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions carried signs reading “On Strike: Fighting Corporate Greed at Verizon Wireless” in front of the Verizon store at 745 Boylston Street.

“Someone’s gotta stand up. The whole middle class is in trouble, and it’s getting worse,” said a 54-year-old lineman who said he is a father of three and a 20-year Verizon employee. He listed some of the worker grievances, including the company’s desire to lay off workers with 20 or more years on the job and to terminate injured workers after 52 weeks on disability and to move workers to more distant locations.

A Verizon statement said the company is “seeking greater flexibility to manage and utilize its workforce to gain operating efficiencies and better customer experiences” and “looking to modernize legacy contractual provisions, some put in place decades ago.”

As for the April 12 announcement, the picketing lineman said Boston is overdue for fiber optic service. As a Braintree resident, he has multiple broadband choices, he said, including Verizon Fios.

“They should have done it a long time ago,” he said. “Competition is good. Like anything, when another company comes in, it has to drive the price down.”

The first Fios service will likely be available in early 2017 and it will take about six years for all Boston neighborhoods to have access.

After the press conference, Walsh told the Banner he receives inquiries nearly every day about when Verizon service would come to Boston. “This is as big for the average person in a home as it is for a business,” he said.

Though the first neighborhoods for fiber optic network construction have been named, Verizon has opened an online voting process to assess where the highest demand exists. Resident votes could influence prioritization within the neighborhoods. For information on how to cast a vote, see Verizon.com/BostonFiber.

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