FiOS Follies

First announced in July 2004, Verizon FiOS couldn’t come to my neighborhood in New York City soon enough. Using fiber-optic connections instead of copper wire to bring telephone service, Internet, and television into the home, FiOS (which stands for Fiber Optic Service) was certainly worth the wait. So was the pain of the installation process and problem solving that followed.

After five hours plus, and a call for a more experienced installer, my FiOS service was up and running – more or less.

The installation consists of bringing the fiber-optic connection into the home and terminating it in an optical network terminal (ONT), which serves as an interface to inside wiring for telephone, television, and Internet access.

The TV service itself is superb, with better picture quality than our cable company (Time-Warner) had ever provided. The multi-room DVR (digital video recorder) system allows streaming of recorded programs (HD and standard) to other TVs in the home. Widgets provide local traffic and weather and local and national news on the top of the screen while programs continue in a slightly smaller size below.

The FiOS Interactive Media Guide has an easy-to-use tabbed interface and allows searching for words that appear anywhere in the description. One can remotely program the DVR via the Web (or using a Verizon mobile phone). The service features over 100 HD channels, 500 all-digital channels, and 14,000 video-on-demand titles (8,500 are free).

The Internet service is lightning fast. It consistently measures close to 20 Mbps, about seven times faster than my DSL service ever was. It’s so fast that my partner and I can each watch a different streaming TV show on our respective computers without any problem (with DSL, one show was frequently more than the service could handle).

It was the plain, old telephone service (known in the industry as “POTS”) that turned out to be the big problem. The day after installation, I noticed that many of my calls were not going through; instead, after dialing, I would hear an ACB recording (“We’re sorry, all circuits are busy…”). After weeks of investigation, this turned out to be a software error; my phone line was coded as an account disconnected for non-payment. I also found that I couldn’t place a call a few times a day; pressing the number pad would simply not break the dial tone. Then a reorder tone (sounds like a fast busy signal) would follow, then a message stating “if you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” I told the repair bureau it was a bad line card but they didn’t seem to believe me. This problem took over two months to resolve and involved dozens of phone calls and the implementation of odd fixes at the phone company’s suggestion (twice they had me unplug all of my phones and they replaced the ONT and also sent a technician to check the inside wiring). Two months later, the problem was determined to be a bad line card in the Nortel softswitch.

A few small glitches remain to date. The remote set-top box loses the connection to the main DVR several times a day and it also has trouble playing recorded programs longer than 30 minutes. In such cases, it loses track of where it is. (Verizon promises a fix for the first problem shortly and advises that the second problem is being worked on.) In addition, the problem in placing a call mysteriously returned for two days recently and then disappeared again.

By this time, you are probably wondering if getting FiOS is worth it – and my answer is a resounding “yes.”

The clear sharp television picture and the lightning fast Internet connectivity are simply head-and-shoulders above any other service I have seen and I saved the best for last. Even with faster speed and sharper picture, I’m saving money. A bundle including TV, Internet plus telephone service is $99.99 per month plus taxes and fees (previously I was paying 60% more for inferior service).

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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