Verizon has received its Final Cable Television (CATV) License (PDF) to operate in Boston, laying a new challenge to Comcast’s long-standing presence as the city’s only video service provider.
The license covers three Boston neighborhoods: Dorchester, the Dudley Square neighborhood in Roxbury and West Roxbury. At this point, the service provider had begun to hook up new customers with FiOS service, starting with its first TV customer in Dorchester.
Getting the signoff on the cable license means Verizon can begin selling FiOS service before the end of the year. Similar to Google’s Fiberhood, residents can order FiOS service by visiting www.verizon.com/BostonFios.
By granting this license to Verizon, the city anticipates future expansion of the service area to additional neighborhoods, with the first round expected to include Hyde Park, Mattapan, and other areas of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a release that “I look forward to working with Verizon to bring more choice and upgraded technology to Boston’s residents and businesses.”
Verizon had all but frozen its FiOS rollouts apart from markets where it had already previously established an agreement.
But all of that changed in April when Verizon and Boston announced a $300 million, 6-year partnership to build out fiber throughout the city.
Bob Mudge, EVP of strategic initiatives for Verizon, told FierceTelecom that having a multifaceted fiber network plan helped accelerate the Boston FiOS rollout.
“We announced in April that we thought there was a broader business case that was wireless, wireline and this fiber could serve a lot of our business needs and accelerated that from negotiations to selling in December,” Mudge said.
Streamlining installation processes
Over the past eight months, Verizon has been constructing their network and has already installed fiber necessary to offer service to 25,000 homes and businesses by the end of the year.
Thus far, technicians have performed hundreds of thousands of fiber splices to connect distribution lines and to prepare for eventually connecting fiber directly to homes and businesses that order FiOS.
To date, Verizon has placed more than 160 miles of fiber throughout Boston, including large-capacity fiber-optic "feeder" lines above and underneath city streets.
Although negotiating the local franchise authority (LFA) agreement terms required a lot of give and take with the city leadership, Mudge said that they wanted to proactively start wiring the building.
“What we did is by June we were already placing fiber and we had a lot of confidence we’d get the LFA done and the city worked with us,” Mudge said. “I had no concerns about beginning the cabling process and I am really glad we did because now we have passed 20,000 homes with fiber and we’ll end the year with 25,000 to 30,000 homes passed.”
Mudge admits that Verizon did not take the easiest path in rolling out FiOS in the city. In Dorchester and Roxbury, a lot of utility poles are located in residential backyards, so the telco needed to get access to those facilities to install cabling.
“A lot of the pole lines are in the backyard construction,” Mudge said. “It’s a lot of physical work to get the cable reels in the backyards, having the crews lay out the cable across the yards and hang them on the pole.”
Interestingly, the service provider also took a unique approach to wiring the city.
Instead of wiring up each Central Office (CO) with optical line terminal (OLT) equipment, Verizon would serve Dorchester out of its Dedham CO, for example. As part of this process, the service provider had to run a 1,728 ribbon feeder fiber cable from Dedham to Roxbury and from Dorchester to Roxbury.
Mudge said that this method of cabling, while unconventional, enabled it to more effectively contain deployment costs.
“When we had to do the interoffice, cross neighborhood feeder jobs, these cables gave us incredible capacity,” Mudge said. “Basically, instead of placing two or three cables, we placed just one.”
Verizon saw similar benefits for its backyard pole installations. The new fiber cabling it used from Corning enabled Verizon to accelerate installations to nearby homes.
“With the backyard cables, we go out and premeasure where the homes and the cables are so we preconnect them,” Mudge said. “When we place the terminals on the cable they are actually prepositioned so when we place the cable the terminals that feed the homes are already in place so that’s another way to really reduce costs.”
By taking what it calls a “one fiber” method, Verizon is using the partnership with Boston and the resulting fiber build to satisfy multiple needs: residential customers, business customers and its current and upcoming 4G and 5G wireless networks.
For residential customers, the one-fiber strategy will enable users in eligible areas Verizon designates for FTTH to get FiOS internet and TV services. But the strategy also has implications for wireless and smart city applications.
Verizon can use the fiber to backhaul traffic from small cells on city street lights and utility poles to improve current 4G LTE wireless services while setting the stage for future 5G wireless deployments. The telco is planning on commercial trials next year.
As the service provider strings fiber throughout the city, Verizon's partnership with Boston includes a "Smart Cities" trial that will address traffic safety and congestion along the Massachusetts Avenue Vision Zero Priority Corridor.
Under this plan, the city and Verizon will experiment with sensors and advanced traffic signal control technology to increase safety, measure bicycle traffic, improve public transit vehicle flow, and decrease congestion. Later "Smart Cities" applications will address other key services, including environmental sensors, energy efficiency, and city lighting management.
What will be interesting to see is if Verizon reaches out to other Massachusetts towns about how they can establish similar agreements with the telco. The mayors of Peabody and Salem sent Verizon a letter pleading with the telco to build out its FTTH service in their towns.
Similarly, 13 city mayors on the East Coast called on Verizon to expand its FiOS FTTH network into more areas that have limited access to high-speed services.
Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon, hinted to investors during the UBS 44th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference that the telco is talking to other cities that would like to engage in similar agreements to the one it has with Boston.
“There are a lot of cities [that] we are having similar conversations with right now,” McAdam said.
Mudge said that when it hatched the Boston fiber plan, it had to look at new deployment methods.
“My challenge from Lowell was to use Boston as a test market for what we can do new and differently,” Mudge said. “If we were going to begin to expand in this in cities and go beyond what we committed to we had to do it in a way that was going to change the cost structure.”
Mudge reiterated that Boston was a “test market” that it could potentially replicate in other cities, but could not share who it is talking to today.
“It’s too early to talk about the specific cities, but we’re absolutely looking across the country at a host of different cities that we think broadband and reinforce network that it makes a lot of sense,” Mudge said.