Updated Feb. 5: The California Public Utilities Commission has denied Verizon’s request (discussed in the linked article) for a 12-week extension to supply Crowley Lake and Swall Meadows with broadband. According to a letter from the CPUC to Verizon, Verizon is in violation of its order to provide the service and may be subject to penalties until service is offered. Click on the link below to read the entire CPUC letter.
In the past week and a half, Verizon didn’t drop a call, but it did drop the broadband ball.
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, the company sent a letter to the Executive Director of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requesting a 12-week extension to its Jan. 28 deadline for offering broadband service to the Mono County communities of Crowley Lake and Swall Meadows.
The deadline was established on July 28, 2011 and gave Verizon 18 months to comply. Verizon was hit with the requirement to provide broadband service to Crowley and Swall after it violated the Scenic Byway laws requiring all communications or electric utility facilities within 1,000 feet be placed underground. Verizon had deployed 32,000 feet of aboveground fiber optic cable along scenic U.S. 395 in Mono County without receiving a variance from the CPUC.
The Jan. 22 letter issued by Verizon came as a surprise to Mono County staff and residents who have been involved with the process.
County GIS Coordinator/Digital 395 Project Manager Nate Greenberg explained to the Mono County Board of Supervisors at a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29, that Verizon kept telling staff that they were on target.
“Verizon has had adequate time and they should have given notice of this months ago,” Greenberg said. Greenberg sent a letter to the CPUC on behalf of the County last week stating this and more because the CPUC thought it was going to resolve the issue on Friday, Jan. 25 and time was of the essence. A decision was not made last week so on Tuesday, Greenberg requested that the Board also send a letter to the CPUC to further back up the County’s position.
Swall Meadows resident Stephen Kalish, who has been the community advocate for this project, also attended Tuesday’s Board meeting. Kalish has been in constant contact with Verizon in the last year, speaking with one of its VP’s 12 times.
“I was worried six or seven weeks ago [that things were not on track],” Kalish told the Board. “I said something to staff and to the PUC, but Verizon sent a letter saying they were on track. I thought I was mistaken and then this came out of the blue.”
Greenberg explained that the CPUC told County staff that the County should ponder what type of penalties Verizon should incur for these delays. Greenberg pointed out to the Board that “financial penalties don’t really benefit the people being harmed by this,” i.e. residents of Crowley and Swall who have been waiting anxiously for service that was promised to them.
Crowley resident, Meghan Stevens, who spent the entire month of January calling Verizon to get on the service list, agreed with Greenberg.
“Make them put in full FiOS [Verizon’s bundled home communications service], or perhaps give us a screaming deal,” Stevens told The Sheet via telephone.
Stevens said she had been calling Verizon every 10 days or so since Jan. 1. “Only so many houses will be able to plug in, but they are making no effort to presell,” she said.
She said the process has been frustrating because when you call “you really have to push hard to get them to look deeper. Only one person out of the four or so I talked to would admit that there was a court order. It’s hard to get someone who knows what’s going on.”
She said that when she calls or attempts to sign up for service online she continues to be told that service is not available.
So what is Verizon waiting on? In its Jan. 22 letter to the CPUC, it is unclear why an additional 12 weeks are necessary to complete a project that had 18 months. One of the main items holding up the project was a needed backhaul upgrade to Verizon’s network, however, the upgrade has been completed and in place since late December 2012. The backhaul upgrade was also expected to make new service available in Mammoth as well.
In Greenberg’s letter to the CPUC he also pointed out “Over the course of the past six months or so, Verizon was able to successfully install equipment and bring online a new cell tower location in Crowley Lake. This required running fiber from their Central Office in Crowley Lake to the antennae location. The tower was turned on in late December. Verizon’s ability to complete this project in a short time frame indicates their priorities and interests, including their general lack of motivation to complete the Crowley Lake/Swall Meadows project.”
In other words, Verizon seems to be prioritizing its wireless service over its obligation to Crowley and Swall.
The Sheet spoke with Verizon’s Director of Government and External Affairs, Mike Murray. Murray is based in Long Beach and said he only deals with media on a local level. He passed us on to Jarryd Gonzales in Verizon’s media relations. The Sheet spoke with Gonzales Wednesday morning and asked why Verizon needed 12 weeks to finish the project. Gonzales said he would have to look into it. He responded with the following statement from Verizon, “Although we experienced some unintended issues with the backhaul upgrade project which caused a delay, Verizon is fully committed to building the infrastructure necessary to provide quality high speed broadband service to Crowley Lake and Swall Meadows.”
The Sheet had heard that Verizon may be waiting on a piece of necessary equipment to arrive from China, plus the company may be low on manpower.