Tuning Fork: The State of Verizon's Cable-Fighting FiOS Network

Get It If You Can


By Brian L. Clark


Regular readers know I crave the idea of competition for my cable provider. So it was with some interest that I took in the new Verizon commercial where the company promises to offer phone, high-speed Internet and television service, all for $95. Go to Verizon's website and you'll notice the typical offerings—DSL and phone service. But there's also a choice for satellite or FiOS, a fiber optic data line.

As copyeditors are fond of saying, "God is in the details." Jump, to see the divine catch.

So I visited Verizonfios.com to learn more about the benefits of FiOS. What I found was a shockingly useless website. I especially loved the option to "enter your phone number to see if the service is available in your area." Chances are, it's not. In fact, according to Verizon's own numbers, the service is currently available to 3.1 million homes, and has a mere 375,000 subscribers in California,

Even now, my biggest concern with FiOS is whether it's going to be everything the Verizon claims it is. The website is so innocuous, it's hard to tell. Even more important, will it be available when they say it will? After all, phone companies have a history here—they were singing the DSL's song long before the service was actually ready for prime time. And they're still playing catch up.

Telcos are obviously desperate to get a foot in the TV door by offering their own "triple play" and they'll say damn near anything to get consumers to buy in. But for the vast majority of Americans, they're really trying to tie you into a satellite contract you may not be able to escape once FiOS actually becomes available. And even if you can get out of it, you're stuck with a useless satellite dish on your roof. In short, they're doing it again. They don't really have a service—most likely won't until 2008—but they're selling the hell out of it anyway because the triple play offered by cable companies is kicking their ass.

Back at the VerizonFiOS site, I "initiated game sequence" against the cable creepers that drag me down. And I drew a picture that turned into some psychedelic graphic. How in the world can they promote TV offerings and have this be the best example of what they intend to do? It's embarrassing. Why can't I see what it offers? Where are the testimonials making me want FiOS? Seriously, the site is awful. If this is indicative of what I can expect from FiOS, cable companies don't have much to worry about.

Listen, I bitch about this because I care. I really want a direct competitor to cable so I don't have to continue to pay the obscene amounts my provider is charging me. Still, despite all the rhetoric from people like John McCain and his cable a la carte fetish, no one does anything to address the real issue—that I only have one cable company to choose from. But do I really believe legitimate competition is going to come from some theoretical service promised by the phone companies? Do I even have a choice?

Maybe.

I know some in blogger-land can only deign to think of WiMax as a third-world wireless Internet solution. But think about this. One of the more interesting under-the-radar developments of the last few weeks was DirecTV's participation in the wireless spectrum auction held by the FCC. Remember, I told you once before that Intel demonstrated WiMax's capabilities at Sundance, beaming a full-length feature to a movie theater several miles away. Could DirecTV be thinking about hawking its own triple play? Probably.

And could the same be said of Sprint, which recently announced its 4th generation network would be based on WiMax. Listen to what the folks at Current Analysis have to say about the company's decision to throw its eggs in the WiMax basket:

"By having high throughput (estimated at 2-4 Mbps) and by having uplink speeds as well as down-link speeds in the Mbps range rather than the kbps range, Sprint can really deliver on its promise of providing next-generation applications such as interactive video-sharing, to include customer generated video content. Business applications such as interactive database access and video-conferencing will also be possible. The speeds of the new network really make wireless an attractive alternative to DSL access."

Hello, Verizon. Can you hear me now?