Verizon's move to fiber a blessing for some Californians, but maybe a curse for others

20 April 2014 by Steve Blum
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Click for a bigger version, courtesy of the CPUC California broadband availability map.

Verizon says it’s invested more than $500 million in upgrading its broadband infrastructure in southern California and, in contrast to AT&T, it seems to be putting its money into wireline systems, particularly its FiOS fiber-to-the-home offerings. But the company is also making it clear that regulated copper plant belongs to past, and plans for replacing it with unregulated, fiber based Internet protocol service are moving ahead in California and elsewhere.

In its press release the company seems to be claiming to have switched more than 500,000 Californian telephone customers from copper to fiber. I say “seems” because the wording is vague enough to leave plenty of wiggle room. But there’s no doubting Verizon’s intent…

Nationwide, Verizon now serves more landline customers on its all-fiber infrastructure than on its legacy copper network.

For the people and communities that have FiOS upgrades already – 1.4 million households in California, according to Verizon – or are on the road map to get it – it’s a great thing. But there’s two ways to raise the percentage of FTTH subscribers: either build more fiber infrastructure or chop off less profitable DSL service and leave customers dependent on costly mobile data. Verizon is doing both.

For now, the company says its not going to add new markets to its fiber map, just build out what it’s already started. Its systems in California are a patchwork, mostly made up of former GTE territories, where the copper infrastructure was not outstanding to begin with. That leaves future broadband options in doubt for some rural areas of the San Joaquin Valley, the fringes of Silicon Valley and parts of the northern and central coast, along with big swathes of southern California.

It would be the same story in eastern California, except for the fact that the Digital 395 middle mile project is already boosting bandwidth for incumbent cable systems and competitive service providers alike. It’s no surprise that Verizon is one of the loudest – if not the most coherent – opponents of state subsidised broadband projects.