Group Ramps Up Call For FiOS In Buffalo

1:24 PM, Sep 21, 2011   |    comments
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FiOS Don't Bypass Buffalo Coalition

BUFFALO-NY, --A group called "Don't Bypass Buffalo" is inferring that racial and economic discrimination may be behind Verizon's continued refusal to bring its popular FiOS phone, internet, and TV services into the city.

"There is a digital divide," said Buffalo Common Council Member David Rivera, who is one of several local lawmakers who've joined with group, in asking that state and federal officials to investigate its concerns.

The group has also put up several billboards in the city to promote its cause.

Coalition member Frank Mesiah, who also heads up the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP, notes what while Verizon offers FiOS in several of Buffalo's suburbs (from a hub located in the heart of the city, no less) those who live within the city limits, where most of the regions minority population resides, are unable to avail themselves to FIOS.

"Years ago they used to tell you, 'we're not coming in because of your color or ethnicity'. Now what they do is set up a policy that has the same effect, but which gives the appearance of neutrality," Mesiah told 2 On Your Side.

Asked if he sees this as an example of discrimination, Mesiah replied, "I'm saying that if it's not...then please explained to us why it's not."

"I realize the coalition thinks there might be some discrimination at work here, but there is zero percent reality to that, and we've told that to the coalition," responded Verizon Spokesman John Bonomo.

In a telephone interview from New York City, Bonomo explained that to meet the obligations of a franchise agreement, should it seek one with the city of Buffalo, Verizon would also likely have to agree to something called a "build out commitment".

"That means that within a certain period of time , and virtually all of them are five years, we would have to have 100% of that community wired for FiOS," Bonomo told WGRZ-TV.

He also said that Verizon currently has 182 such agreements on their plate with municipalities across the entirety of New York State.

"And so, therefore, we are not seeking any new TV franchises in any communities," Bonomo said.

As the coalition pushes the government to get involved, 2 On Your Side asked the group's Vice President, Nikita Fortune, whether she felt the government should be exerting pressure on a private business to compel it to open in a certain area.

"It's the responsibility of the local government, especially the local government, to look out for the welfare of their people," she replied, and Mesiah argues there's plenty at stake for the residents of the city of Buffalo.

"They will be short changed...you're excluding a digital system that would improve the quality of education...and if there are businesses trying to develop, they might be two steps behind the businesses in the suburban areas because they have FiOS."

Meantime, the company announced it will start offering its higher speed, 4-G wireless service on the Niagara Frontier, including the city of Buffalo, in one month.

Buffalo was the last major upstate community to get the service because, according to Verizon Spokesman John O'Malley, the company had to wait until Canadian TV stations (whose analog signals penetrated the area) to convert to digital. When that process was completed on August 31st, it freed of the needed bandwidth for Verizon to bring 4-G to the area.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalists Norm Fisher from Eden and Dooley O'Rourke.

Click here to read Dave McKinley's latest blog.

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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