My brother Grant lives in Harford County, Maryland on a 9-acre wooded property with a 1/8-mile-long driveway. For internet, he’s always had a Verizon DSL plan.
In recent months, he began experiencing static on his landline phone that sometimes interrupted the internet connection, so he called Verizon to fix it.
Verizon said the static came from aging copper wires and pushed him to upgrade, to a Fios fiber optic package. Grant was dubious. Not about the fiber connection speed or its cost, but whether Verizon would pay for its installation.
His Verizon History
Previously, he had called Verizon to upgrade to fiber. He gave me the rundown in an email:
They originally told me 5 years or so ago that they would happily come out and fix me up with fiber but when they arrived and had a look at what the deal actually was they immediately back-tracked and declared it would be too expensive and they were going to stick me with the bill. I decided I still loved my DSL and that was that. I had huge doubts that they would get me hooked up this time but the Verizon lady assured me they do this kind of thing all the time.
When the Verizon installers came in September (above), they didn’t bat an eye. Again, I’ll let Grant tell it:
The Verizon installer estimated the whole job would cost Verizon $4K-5K. The fiber optic cable alone is a dollar a foot and he says he used 2000 feet with many great wasted loops on each end. We can all sit around now watching separate videos on our various devices at once with no interruptions.
Cost? $50 per month, which meant giving up the landline (that package costs $100/mo). Grant again:
No one has answered the house phone for over a year [I can vouch for that!] and no outgoing calls have been made over the house phone due to static on the line for the last few months with virtually no complaining [from my wife or 3 kids]. I actually always dreamed of joining all the millennials and getting rid of the house phone anyway since everyone except for [10-year-old] Hunter has a cell phone. And how much longer can we prevent him from ordering his own cell phone over our lightning-fast internet anyway?
It all sounded great to me (except for the child gone wild part), so I made a beeline for the Verizon Fios site and found this availability map:
That’s odd, I thought. Why would Verizon ignore Baltimore City, the fourth-most-populated jurisdiction in Maryland, after Montgomery County (DC suburb), Prince George’s County (DC suburb), and Baltimore County. And certainly the most-densely-populated of the four (no $4,000 installs), with many middle-class and well-to-do neighborhoods. It didn’t make sense that Verizon would allow Comcast Cable to have a monopoly on high speed internet in the city.
So I did a little research and found this article that outlines two reasons why Verizon is not offering Fios in the city:
- The city doesn’t have a franchise agreement with Verizon
- The city infrastructure is old so it would be costly to install a fiber network
The article refutes the #1 franchise agreement argument, as Verizon proceeded with a Boston investment despite no agreement in place there, and Baltimore says no agreement is necessary.
The #2 cost argument is harder to evaluate from the outside. No doubt the infrastructure is old, and you’d think if the business case pointed to investment, then they would move forward with it. Profits always win out, right?
Maybe. I’ve been through business school, so I know how much expected outcomes can vary based on relatively small changes in projected cost or revenue. Within reason, you can get profit models to output what you want, just by massaging your assumptions.
And, on a more sinister level, as much as we’d like to think redlining is a thing of the past, it probably isn’t. The Post did a withering report on the devastating effects of redlining in Baltimore.
Regardless, I can’t control Verizon. So given a choice between Comcast cable high-speed internet and Verizon DSL medium-speed internet, we are sticking with DSL.
For one thing, it’s cheaper. We pay only $69 per month for DSL and a landline with unlimited domestic long distance. Nora doesn’t have a cell phone, so a landline is important to us.
Also, we don’t want all the channels that come with cable. Or maybe any of them. Even with free TV, we spent the early years setting up hurdles between our kids and the TV. Now that they are teenagers, the screen time battle has moved to Youtube. But perhaps we’d return to erecting barricades if there was something actually worth watching on TV.
Actually, I’m secretly not envious of my brother. If we got Fios, we’d never get the kids off their devices. As it is now, the connection speed is just slow enough that it gets annoying after a while.
I called Grant on this topic the other day. “Is there some way to throttle Fios so your kids aren’t on the web all day long?” I asked.
“Yeah, I do some throttling all right,” he replied, “but it has nothing to do with Fios.”
What internet connection service do you use and why?
You know I live 1/2 mile off Harford Rd in Baltimore County. We cannot get any traditional internet service.
We use our Sprint cell phones as hotspots and it’s slow but fairly reliable and rather cheap. No tv either other than our antenna!
I think the longer the driveway, the harder for providers to justify the expense of laying all that cable. There’s something wonderful about living sort of off the grid though, yet with civilization close by.
That reminds me of when fiber was new. Our rural county got wrecked by a major ice storm. All the wires came down, power and cable /internet. They went back with fiber and suddenly we had lightning fast internet. Way faster than Houston TX where my brother lived. It was crazy that rural Arkansas had better internet than one of the world’s largest cities.