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Verizon: Landlords block way to FiOS

As Mayor de Blasio leans on telecom giant to deliver fiber broadband for all, building owners alleged to bar crews from premises

From the Dakota on Central Park West to tenements in the Bronx, landlords are blocking access to crews seeking to install FiOS cable and high-speed internet, claims telecommunications giant Verizon, which is up against a June deadline for laying its fiber network citywide.

So far this year, the telecommunications giant has filed petitions with state regulators alleging that owners of 219 buildings in the five boroughs housing 26,000 apartments have prevented crews from coming in to wire the premises. Those follow similar complaints Verizon made regarding 144 buildings in 2013.

The Dakota is one of hundreds of city buildings that Verizon says have refused access to fiber-optic cable crews. AP Photo/Richard Drew

The Dakota is one of hundreds of city buildings that Verizon says have refused access to fiber-optic cable crews. AP Photo/Richard Drew

Verizon’s filings with the state Public Service Commission come as Mayor Bill de Blasio vows to force the company to provide affordable broadband to low-income New Yorkers and has suggested that the company is falling short of its commitment to wire the entire city.

While the June 30 deadline applies only to completing the main trunks of the system running through city streets, the mayor has called attention to customers who have sought Verizon service only to be told that it’s not available.

“We’ve heard this incessantly from people in neighborhoods all over the city,” the mayor said as he introduced his new counsel, Maya Wiley, in mid February. “They don’t have the access that’s claimed.”

Under Verizon’s 2008 franchise agreement with the city, once fiber is laid in an area and a household requests FiOS, the company has six months to deliver service to that customer’s home. While the agreement with the city applies to cable television services only, the company’s broadband Internet service travels over the same fiber-optic network.

“Verizon is on pace to meet our obligations called for in the franchise agreement to run an all-fiber network throughout the entire five boroughs,” said company spokesperson John Bonomo in an emailed statement. “We will complete the premises passed portion of the FiOS build in 2014, meaning we will have fiber up and down each street and avenue in the entire city, providing meaningful competition that benefits all City residents.”

Bonomo compared what he called a “transformative” undertaking to such massive infrastructure projects as the Second Avenue subway.

One landlord who has blocked access to FiOS crews responded to Verizon’s petitions with an account to the state of bad past experiences with the company.

“They never came back to fix the holes that were drilled, fix the boxes they installed and put molding on their respective wires,” complained Hamdi Nezaj, who owns buildings in the Bronx.

“I am not interested once again in having Verizon drill holes and butcher my buildings.”

Other landlords have told the state that the services of another cable provider are enough for their tenants.

The management of the Tower 53 condominium, a Manhattan high rise, told the state that it has been negotiating terms of entry with Verizon since 2010, but has yet to secure a definite work schedule from the company.

Verizon did not respond an inquiry about the two allegations.

The manager of the luxury landmark the Dakota, Douglas Elliman Property Management, did not respond to a request for comment.

State law prohibits landlords from interfering with the installation of cable television systems or demanding payment from a company or tenant in exchange for installation. But the law also requires that telecommunications companies protect the “safety, functioning and appearance of the premises,” and take responsibility for any damage it causes.

Mayor de Blasio has been locking horns with Verizon since his time as public advocate, when he accused the company of falling behind on its rollout of FiOS cable TV under a 2008 agreement with the city.

Now he is combining that crusade with his pledge to end the “tale of two cities,”, saying that the service is too expensive for poorer New Yorkers.

Wiley asserted during her debut public appearance that “there are lots of levers that the city can pull” in its quest to provide more affordable internet in New York City. She vowed to use “all of them.”

Verizon FiOS currently costs $74.99 a month for internet and TV, and $49.99 for internet only.

The poorest one-fifth of households in New York City earn an average income of $17,119 annually, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of census data.

Time Warner Cable and Cablevision also have cable television franchise agreements with the city, which allow them to provide broadband internet and telephone service on the same hookups. But Verizon is the only residential provider of fiber-optic broadband services and the only provider charged with covering the entire city.

Peter Schwab, executive director of franchise administration for the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which oversees the cable franchises, says he understands Verizon to be nearing the finish line on construction.

“Based on the current information provided, we believe the FiOS build will still be completed in 2014,” said Schwab.

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