#60 A Simple Question
March 31, 2016
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This week, PJ tries to help a listener named Matt ask a very large company a very simple question. Are you telling me the truth?
PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt. Last week, my colleague Alex Goldman provided technical support to a woman who'd lost her domain name and wanted it back. Alex is out this week and so I am stepping up to provide super technical support. So this starts very simply, with an email from a guy named Matt Kime who lives in Brooklyn. Matt wrote to say that all he wanted was to sign up for high speed internet in New York City. He wanted this service called Fios, which is just internet over fiber optic cables. It's supposed to be insanely fast. Verizon sells it. So he called Verizon.
MATT KIME: I had, like, checked with Verizon to see if I could get service at my new apartment and, like, I I I think, they they don’t say, "No," they kinda do like, "We’ll get back to you."
MATT: Fast forward a little while, I I get something in the mail saying, like, that they’re offering service, and so I’m like, "Alright great, I’m gonna, like, call them up and like get them to install it." And that, that doesn’t go anywhere. I eventually get something in the mail saying that like, "We've tried to get in touch with your landlord to install service. Our engineers are working on it."
PJ: And Matt was like, "Huh. Weird." Because according to Matt he has the rarest thing in New York. He has an exceptionally good landlord.
MATT: Like if I complain about the leaky sink, he actually shows up and fixes it. Which, you know, by New York standards, is like. . .
PJ: Oh, that’s crazy. . .
MATT: . . .ridiculously helpful.
MATT: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly, like, my past experience would have been, "Leaky sink? Why are you calling us?" So, so, so, I mean, so he's like by on a weekly basis. And like if there's something to talk about, like, we talk about it.
PJ: So why wouldn't a good landlord want his tenant to have incredibly fast internet. It didn't make any sense. I called Matt’s landlord up to ask. His name is Fred.
PJ: Hi, this is PJ calling. Matthew put me in touch with you.
FRED: Oh, right right right. Oh, yes, uh huh.
PJ: Fred said Verizon wasn’t telling the truth. He said he's never heard anything from them about Matt. Moreover, he says he had called Verizon, on his own, to ask about Fios. And they’d told him the same thing: they need to get permission from the owner of the building.
PJ to Fred: Did you tell them that you’re the owner of the building?
FRED: Oh, whoever I spoke to, yes. They, I told them I was the owner of the building, yes. Whoever I spoke to, yes.
PJ: And what’d they say?
FRED: They said that they just don't do, they just not servicing that area right now.
PJ: And would you want Verizon to install Fios in your buildings if they could?
FRED: I I I would like them to install Fios more so than, you know, the dishes that you gotta hang on, you know, on your buildings and all that other stuff. Yeah, I would like Fios more than. . .Yes, the answer's, "Yes." Mmhhm.
PJ: So Matt said he knows that sometimes with stories like this, when a reporter starts asking questions, everything somehow just gets streamlined for the person who's making trouble. And he said he didn't want that. That wouldn't be right.
MATT: Yeah, like like honestly like if I were to mysteriously get service and then like the people upstairs from me couldn’t get service, like, there'd be part of me who'd like, that would want to like, I don't know. . .Well I guess like I'd still use the service, but, like, I’d almost hate them more. I would hate them more and would dislike myself for, like, still wanting to use it. Yeah, that that that, yeah, that's definitely how I'd, I'd feel about that.
PJ: And this, it turns out, is why Matt really wanted Super Tech Support. Not for me to magically get him Fios. Instead, he wanted something that was way more difficult. He wanted something I have wanted so many times in my life, while dealing with some massive internet company. Matt wanted an answer. He wanted to know: Why verizon had treated him that way? Had they made a mistake? Had they lied to him? And if so, why? This seemed to me kind of like a hopeless request, but it resonated with me. And so, I started to poke around. And it turns out, in New York City, there are actually a ton of people with Matt’s problem. People who don’t have Fios and who want it. They want it with the kind of fervor that people usually reserve for new iPhones or opening night Star Wars tickets.
PATRICIA LAKIN: In 2013, I found out, yes. Fios was available in my neighborhood. So I called the number that was inserted in my bill. Yes. I want Fios sign me up. That was in 2013.
PHIA BENIN: Oh my God, that was such an exciting moment.
PATRICIA: Yes. Would you like to find out when I got Fios?
PHIA: I would love to hear when you got Fios.
PATRICIA: It is now 2016. I still don't have it.
PJ: This is Patricia Lakin. Reply All producer Phia Benin spoke to her. She lives on the upper west side..
PATRICIA: By now it became my mission. It exists. It's in my neighborhood. I want it. I want to be able to save money and have faster internet connection.
PJ: So let me tell you what it is like to live in New York City. Everywhere you look, is an advertisement for Fios.
FIOS AD: Hhhmm. . .genius. Hi, I'm Michael Bay director of Hollywood hits such as Transformers.
PJ: There's ads on TV. There's ads on the radio. There's ads on the internet, both streaming and on pop up. There are flyers that get shoved under your door.
FIOS AD: . . .that's what getting Verizon Fios. . .
PJ: It's on billboards. It's on the back of the newspaper. It is in the eyes of the people who you love. It is written in the night sky in the stars. It is inescapable.
FIOS AD: This is what happens when Verizon brings fiberoptics straight into your home.
PATRICIA: On every single Verizon truck emboldened is Fios. You know, on the sides of the trucks. So it's certainly something that is being promoted for sure.
PHIA: And how do you feel when you see that?
PATRICIA: Ha ha ha. You know, it's like, yeah, right. Torture.
PJ: Maybe this sounds like hyperbole. But for me and for most of the people I know, it makes sense because New York is a slow internet hellscape. Everything here just trickles. Using the internet is like sitting in TImes Square at 5 o'clock in rush hour all the time. Watching Netflix is like slowly flipping a picture book. And anytime you start to get used to this, to just think, "This is normal. Things take time to load." Whatever you tell yourself then you see an ad for Fios.
FIOS AD: . . .Verizon brings fiber optics straight to your home. This is Fios.
PJ: And it makes this promise to you. That it doesn't have to be like this. And you can't help but wish that you had it. That everybody had it. That the mayor would pass a decree guaranteeing Fios for all New Yorkers. You get Fios, you get Fios. Now i know what you're thinking. There’s no way that would ever happen. But dear listener you are wrong. Because in 2008 Verizon signed a contract with the city.
JOSH MUMM: That they would make Fios available to any resident who wanted it. And they said that they would do that by the summer of 2014.
PJ: This is Josh Mumm. He works for a progressive nonprofit group called Common Cause.
JOSH: Even if you were the only person in your apartment building who wanted it, they still had to, and they had to go up the elevator shaft to get in there, which would have been a nonstandard installation, they still had to do that. You still had the right to to request Fios and have it installed.
PJ: So in theory this utopia should have showed up 2 years ago. But Matt doesn't have Fios even though he wants it. Patricia doesn't have Fios even though she wants it. And when the city looked into this they found out that there's at least 40,000 people who’ve requested Fios and haven’t gotten after waiting for more than a year. So nobody knows for sure why this is happening. After I talked to Matt, I started trying to find somebody at Verizon who would talk to me. Which is not easy to do, it turns out. And more on that later. But in the meantime, Matt gave me his theory for what was going on. He knows that some people are getting Fios. And his theory is that Verizon only wants to sell to rich people. Matt used to live in Williamsburg, which is a very expensive neighborhood. And when he lived there he actually did have Fios.
Matt: When I had it installed in Williamsburg a guy came drilled a hole in the side of the building, put put the fibers through it and like that was it. There was no getting in contact with the landlord. Like they installed it like they did regular cable.
PJ: You think that they’re much more interested in installing in the expensive neighborhood than in the less expensive one?
Matt: That is like 100%, I don’t know? Part of it. I have no doubt. Yeah.
PJ: This makes sense to me because when you sign up for any kind of internet, the company will also try to sell you a TV package and a phone line; all the other services that come through that same wire. And so I could imagine that maybe they’d want to serve rich people first because rich people, maybe they wouldn't just pay 80 bucks a month for internet. They also might pay like another 100 bucks for the really good cable package. Or like 60 more bucks for the sports package. Maybe they don’t just want HBO and HBO 2, maybe they want, you know, HBO 1 through 9.
MATT:I mean they’re trying to maximize their revenue. Like so, they have one level, like you might have salespeople who are incentivized to push that. Maybe that's they, like, yeah, maybe people whose like job all day is, "How many triple plays did you close all day." You know, the big like talk around the water cooler.
PJ: That would have been against the rules. They had to give Fios to everybody, not just the rich people. And who knows if that's what they were doing it. These were just guesses. Now Josh, he has a slightly different way of looking at this this whole mysterious problem. I should say that his group usually tackles much bigger problems. Stuff like Citizens United. But Fios ended up on his plate after a lot of Common Cause's members complained that they couldn't get it. And so now they’ve become sort of experts about why people in the US have such abysmally slow internet. Not just in New York, but in many places.
So here’s what I learned from Josh. The actual process of wiring a city for internet, it's really really expensive up front. You've got to do all this construction. But once you've done it, you can make a ton of money off people's' subscriptions. Governments don't want to spend all that up front money and so they let companies do it. But before any wires get put down, they'll make deals with the companies. They'll say, "If you're going to give internet to the people where we live, it's gotta be this fast or you've gotta give them this deal. Or you've gotta pay us some of the money." And that moment, before the wire gets laid, that is a moment where the government has a ton of power. If you live somewhere where your internet sucks, it probably started sucking when one of those deals got made. And that's why internet across so much of the United States just seems to crawl.
JOSH: Especially when you compare that to internet service around the world and how affordable and fast it’s even in places like Bulgaria.
PJ: Is the internet really faster in Bulgaria?
JOSH: Yeah, it's much faster. And I think in I think in some places like, like South Korea i think it’s 30 MB/sec. Again, I mean. . .
PJ: What is it like n Manhattan?
JOSH: And it's all. . .let's see. Average internet speed in Manhattan.
PJ: Do you. . .what do you have?
JOSH: What do I have?
PJ: Yeah, do you have Fios?
JOSH: This is going to make us look bad.
PJ: What do you mean?
JOSH: We have, we have Fios.
JOSH: Yeah. Yeah, we got Fios. I think another thing they did was they went to bigger like downtown office buildings where there's a lot of the, you know, we're in lower Manhattan. There's a lot of nonprofits here. There's a lot of like startup groups that are here. So i think they wanted to make sure that those areas were wired first and. . .let's just, let's just do a speed test.
PJ: This, by the way, was actually the first time I’d gotten to see Fios. What it actually looked like. And it seemed fast. Normally, if I type in a URL and I hit enter I'm used to this little pause. It's like, 3 to 5 seconds while I just wait. And Josh’s browser didn’t have that.
PJ: Can i just say, by the way, we’re on this website to test your speed. There are 5 ads for Verizon Fios. There are 5 banner ads around this speed test
JOSH: For $69 a month.
PJ: So you’re seeing an ad for a thing you have.
PJ: it’s crazy the advertising part of it. I know it doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it just, I'm so curious about it. It's like a store being out of stock of something but they're just putting up all these ads telling people to come by it. Like, those customers don't come and get something else. They don't come in . .. they're not happy. Like it, it's it it, that is the part that actually confuses me more than anything.
JOSH: Yeah, I mean, you know that we had stories of a guy, he said, "There's a Verizon truck that parks outside of. . ." He lives in Manhattan. He said, "There's a Verizon truck that parks outside of my house every single day. And I cannot get Fios installed. The Verizon truck, it's a Fios truck. It says Fios all over it. It's a promotional truck that just sits there." And he's gone out and talked to people at the truck and says, "Give me Fios. I want it."
PJ: There's this other thing that I'd heard about that Josh just could not explain. When Verizon first signed the contract, by all accounts, they’d been great. They'd wired Fios for the people who'd wanted it. Things had been normal. But then, after a year or so, installations ground to a halt. It seemed like there was a clue in that, but Josh couldn't explain why it happened.
RECEPTIONIST: CWA. Good afternoon. May I help you?
PJ: Hi, this if PJ Vogt calling back for Bob Master.
RECEPTIONIST: Hold on please.
PJ: So I called Bob Master. Bob works for the communications workers union. So he represents the guys who work for Verizon. The people who actually install Fios. And Bob said, "Yes, at a certain point Fios installations had gotten very weird."
BOB MASTER: Our members, you know they just do what they’re told to do, right? But they know when it’s being done right and when it’s being done wrong.
PJ: In every borough (except for some reason, Staten Island) their bosses would tell them to go wire the main avenues, but then they wouldn't tell them to wire the side streets.
BOB: I mean, guys from the lower east side, you know, they go up 1st Ave. They go up 2nd Ave. They don’t build any of the side streets because you’ve got to go building by building and wire these old tenement buildings and companies didn’t want to invest the, invest the resources.
PJ: So from Bob’s perspective, it looked like Verizon was doing the bare minimum. And Bob himself will say that he has a bias here. If Verizon installs more lines, that's more work for his union members. But he also said this other thing. He thought that Matt was wrong about Verizon just being interested in rich customers. Because he said if you really looked at which streets got skipped, it wasn’t as simple as rich neighborhoods versus poor neighborhoods.
BOB: It has not in our view just been an issue of economic discrimination, right? Because there are pretty wealthy neighborhoods, for example like Ditmas Park and Prospect Park South and Park Slope that do not have Fios. It appears to us that the company simply did not want to invest in the the cost of labor that it would take to build out universally.
PJ: Bob says, here is the theory that he heard from his union members. The rumor is that Fios is basically the victim of a regime change within Verizon. This whole ambitious, crazy plan to wire New York with Fios, it had started with this guy Ivan Seidenberg. Seidenberg was the CEO of Verizon.
BOB: Seidenberg was the CEO until, I don't know exactly when, 2011, 2010. He came out of the wireline company. He was a, he was a New York Tel, NYNEX guy.
PJ: So Seidenberg takes this big risk. He puts a ton of money behind Fios. He's convinced it's going to be the next big thing. But then, in 2011, the board tells Seidenberg he is no longer CEO.
BOB: Then a guy out of wireless named Lowell McAdam, who's the current CEO, takes over. He's a wireless guy and he's like, "Why are we spending all our money on this?" This, this was the theory, right? And our members speculated that there was kind of shift in philosophy.
PJ: One additional fact that might support this -- at about the same time the new CEO took over, the installations slowed down. There were more complaints to the city about people not getting service. And it turned out, that while the agreement had said Verizon had to give almost everybody FIOS, it hadn't really spelled out any penalties if they just didn’t follow through. So it's possible Verizon thought they could get away with it and nobody would really notice or care. After all, the mayor at the time was Bloomberg, who was pretty pro-business, not like a huge regulation guy. But then, in 2013 Bill de Blasio was elected New York’s mayor.
BILL DE BLASIO: Our approach is going to be bold and it's going to be decisive because we simply haven't done well enough in this city. The goal is quite simple. We must have universal, affordable high speed internet access throughout this city. It's as simple as that.
PJ: And De Blasio, during his campaign, he kept talking about how the internet is a human right. How everybody should have fast internet. And specifically, he kept saying that Verizon was falling down on the job. So de Blasio gets elected and suddenly Verizon’s in trouble. They’re ordered to come to this hearing. And it's this hearing where city councilors basically just beats up Verizon. For four hours.
CHAIRPERSON JAMES VACCA: Now let me first say we just received this. This is not your testimony right? It’s a brief. Oh and… LEECIA EVE: Yes… yes Chair, yes.
CHAIRPERSON VACCA: Oh I… I… if you’re going to read all this I don’t know you better get me no doze. But. . .
PJ: I have never watched a city council hearing before, but if they were like this all the time, I would watch one every night. The councilmembers are just pounding on this Verizon exec because the city had found out that when customers call to ask for Fios, Verizon doesn't say, "Oh, we haven't wired your home, yet, but we're on our way." They just tell a lot of the customers, "Fios isn't available in your neighborhood. Period." And then, sometimes, not only do they do that but they try to sell them satellite TV. The city's mad. And one of the council members, Brad Lander, says he even called that very day.
COUNCILMEMBER BRAD LANDER: I don't mean to make this my customer service request. I talked to a lovely. I talked to a lovely woman named Stacey. And I sure don't mean to get her in trouble. We'll talk about her training in a minute but do, do you want to guess at what Stacy told me about the availability of Fios on, at my house on 13th Street between 4th and 5th Avenue?
PJ: Lander has this barely suppressed smile on his face. He looks like someone halfway through a prank call. And then the camera cuts to these two Verizon representatives who do not look like they're having fun.
KEVIN SERVICE: I’d rather not.
COUNCIL MEMBER LANDER: Okay.
LEECIA EVE: I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to guess. You can tell us. . .
COUNCIL MEMBER LANDER: Stacy told me, and I quote. . .I was going to record it so I could play it for you but I assume you have it recorded. Fios is unavailable at your address at this time. I asked when it would be available. She did not… she said honestly I don’t know. And she certainly did not offer me nonstandard installation or any other approach. Now I don’t want to get her in trouble. It sounds to me like you’re saying the problem is not that Fios is unavailable at my house, the problem is that Stacy didn’t say to me, "Mr. Lander it’s available in your neighborhood just not to you." Is that what was… I’m just… that… that’s what… that’s what should have happened, that she should have told me… she was wrong to tell me it was unavailable?
PJ: The craziest part of the hearing is when they get to the part about the apartments that didn’t want Fios. These were the apartments where Verizon was supposed to just pass the wire by their house in case somebody wanted it later. It turns out a lot of those streets aren’t wired. Even though Verizon had told the city that they'd fulfilled their side of the deal. And so Brad Lander, the same city councilmember from before, he says it sounds like you had your own definition of the word "passed" but it seems incredible that you never mentioned it.
BRAD: So. . .I, I. . . you included in your testimony. . .well actually I want to question. . I, I was looking at the franchise agreement. And it defines a lot of terms, this agreement you have. It defines "public right of way," "multiple dwelling unit," "normal business hours," "person," "subscriber," it even defines "borough president" in the franchise agreement. Does it define "passed?"
LEECIA: No it does not.
BRAD: It does not define "passed."
PJ: So, the city tells Verizon that if they don't follow the agreement, the city will sue them. And publicly, Verizon doesn't apologize or admit to any wrongdoing, but this message seems to get through because afterwards, everybody agrees that things just quietly get better. Bob, the guy from the union, said that Verizon started taking workers from other places in New York, like upstate, and forcing them to relocate to New York for weeks at time to try to install more Fios lines. And the city said that the number of complaints they were getting from people who just couldn't get Fios, the complaints started to go down. I talked to Maya Wiley who's the mayor’s lawyer and it's her job now to make sure that Verizon follows the rules. She says that it's working but even even now, even she says that that she does not understand why they didn't want to do it in the first place. MAYA WILEY: Right, at the end of the day they make money by getting customers. That's why this whole process has been astounding in some respects because it only benefits them to do everything in their power to get that fiber out there and get more people online. And I'm looking forward to seeing them act more in line with their business interests.
PJ: When I die the only thing I want to get to do is to be a ghost in that building and know if like all these decisions came out of like, if they were like, "Hahahahaha, we'll make so much money by not doing this." Or if it was just confused people kind of messing up a job.
MAYA: I I I I honestly, and I want to say that I think that, I think there's some committed at Verizon so I don't want to you know paint Verizon with one nasty brush. We want them to be successful. I I I think that there are some examples of where they had to tighten up shop. I think that there are questions about what level of commitment they had to continuing Fios rollout. I think that they are demonstrating more commitment now which is gratifying. But I agree with you. I think there's a fascinating book to be written.
PJ: Yeah. The central irony of the story for me is I've never seen a story where people are saying, "Please take $80 a month from me. Please."
PJ: I mean, have you?
MAYA: "I beg you. Charge me more money." Well because, you know, they want, think about it. You know, one of the problems we have in the city, and it's one of the reasons we need more competition is we pay more for less. You know, if we're, a lot of folks, if we lived in Seoul, Korea or Amsterdam, we'd be getting significantly faster speeds at significantly lower prices. And that's because, you know, they may have maybe five providers in the market to serve every one customer instead of one to two providers. So I, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to plop down my $80 a month for FIOS.
PJ: Have you genuinely called to just get FIOS for your house as a civilian?
MAYA: I I actually went online to the website. I had a heck of a time. I tried three times getting online to file my request for service. At one point there were issues with even being able to find the part of the website where you could request the service. So I've raised that with them. Although at the end of the day I made clear I'm not arguing that my neighborhood be done first.
PJ: Maya actually had advice for what Matt could do to get his internet fixed. To get it fixed the way he wants it fixed for everybody. She basically said he should call 311. That if the city got a bunch of complaints from his neighborhood, then they could yell at Verizon and they could make sure that his neighborhood got service. Which was nice, but I still felt like I hadn't solved the problem. Cuz Matt wanted to know why Verizon hadn't wanted to give him Fios in the first place. And nobody I'd spoken to really understood. It felt like really only Verizon could explain this.
So, trying to get Verizon on the phone weirdly felt a bit a little bit like trying to get signed up for Fios. It was difficult, but I could never tell if it was hard because they didn’t want to talk, or they wanted to but they were messing up somehow or if I was just doing everything wrong.
Like, I emailed their PR department asking about Matt’s FIOS problem and they said they’d look into it. They gave me a call. I missed their call, but when I tried them the next day the guy who I’d spoken to was on vacation. And he said said I was supposed to talk to this other guy or actually maybe this third guy, but neither of those two guys got back to me. Days went by. An email went unanswered. And I couldn’t tell if they were like an opaque organization that was just pretending to be transparent or they were really trying and our signals kept crossing.
So finally, Sunday night, I got frustrated, and I sent an email that said I'd gotten the union's side and I just wanted to make sure that I also had theirs.
And they got back to me.
PJ: So wait can you just tell me what is your, what's your title at Verizon?
RAY MCCONVILLE: You can just say I’m a Verizon spokesperson. But I mean I handle, like I handle media relations for all of like, you know, like the New York region stuff.
PJ: This is Ray McConville. We ended up talking for over an hour. He was exceedingly patient. One of the first things that I ran by him was this theory that Verizon had stopped supporting Fios because of internal regime change. He did not confirm this theory.
RAY: No, I, that's just, that's just nonsense.
PJ: It is.
RAY: There’s really nothing more I can say to that than that’s just, that's nonsense
PJ: So Ray would not say that Verizon had screwed up at any point. According to Ray, at this point Verizon really and truly has wired every neighborhood in New York City. He says in neighborhoods that have outside telephone poles there's aerial cabling and where there's not outside telephone poles there's underground conduits that can run the cables underneath the ground. And Ray denies that Verizon ever fell behind the schedule that they agreed to.
RAY: You know, as the way we’ve been saying it is that we, you know, the requirement is by 2014 that you know we pass all the homes with, with the network, which we’ve done that part. The next challenge with that is then getting it directly into each and every property, which is what we’re dealing with right now.
PJ: Right I mean that was...can we talk about the word pass?
RAY: I mean if you want. I mean, I don't know. This is not, that's not going to be the most exciting discussion but sure.
PJ: Well for me it was because that was the part where I felt, I feel like there are a lot of parts of this that frankly are over my head. Like I'm not a. . .
RAY: What are you, what are you, what are you suggesting, then. I mean it seems like you're suggesting that we're, I I’m not sure what it is that you’re getting at here, that you’re sort of accu. . .you you you're. .it sounds like you want to make some sort of accusation in here. I’m not sure exactly what it is yet though.
PJ: No, I don’t want to make an accusation, I just want to understand.
PJ: The reason, the reason I bring up pass is because when i was watching the hearing there was an argument about what that word meant and it feels like that word is actually really important in this because it felt like the people, the city, the people who represented the city were saying when you say you pass a wire outside a house like I think they pictured it very literally. Like they pictured. . .
RAY: Yeah well like I said, I mean, it it's it runs every...like I said, it runs past every building but again like I said that that final challenge is we now have to get it inside the actual home.
PJ: Now I think that when Ray uses the word "passed" he's still using Verizon's definition of the word which is different from most people’s. Verizon's definition I think is that if the cable goes past your house he means it goes within walking distance of your house. Ray's saying, "Don’t get so caught up on whether or not you can see the cable hanging outside your window. That’s not the point."
RAY: It doesn’t have to be on the actual street but it’s close enough to it such that once we get permission we can bring it in like if you live in the suburban environment there may not be, you know, a, you know, telephone wire that runs down that exact street but you live close enough to the closest pole that when you want service from us it’s easy for us to come in and extend it to you. So it’s the same situation in the urban environment it’s just that the difference there is we have to then get permission and work out an arrangement with the property owner to come in and do the actual construction and that and you know that doesn’t always go smoothly.
PJ: The property owner. Ray says that the landlords are the issue.
RAY: That's, that's the only remaining hurdle. It’s not, it's not that if you're if the landlord was begging us to come in and and and we say, "Hey we can’t do it we just don’t have fiber facilities near your your apartment." No that, that, then that would be the case of a property we don’t pass with Fios but that’s not the case. Like, we pass it because all that’s left is you know to get that you know those, that last however many feet it is to get it from the street into the actual building.
PJ: Got it. And, and that’s true of every home in New York City at this point?
RAY: Pretty much, yeah.
PJ: What do you mean pretty much?
RAY: I mean I mean yeah sorry I’m just speaking colloquially with you.
PJ: So, at this point I was feeling very skeptical because we'd started out this whole thing talking about landlords. They'd said that Matt's landlord was the problem and that turned out not to be true. But what Ray was saying was a little bit more complicated than that. And he said the best way to explain it was to look at a part of the city where landlords actually are not a problem.
RAY: You know when you're, when you’re in a suburban environment you know only, you know only two parties need to agree. The guy who lives in the house, and then us, and we say, "OK here we come."
Like Staten Island it’s almost you know pretty much, pretty close to 100% availability on Staten Island. It’s the most suburban borough, that’s where i’m from. My parents still live there. They have it. You know it's, you know there's certain parts of the Bronx, in Queens, in Brooklyn that are, you know, less urban. You know, where you see more traditional single family homes. When a customer calls and says, "Hey, I want Fios we say sure" We show up. We climb up the pole. We run a fiber drop from the nearest pole down to their house and and get it connected. And that's it.
PJ: Whereas Manhattan, says Ray, Manhattan still has problems with Fios penetration. Ray, who is a Verizon spokesperson, still can’t actually can’t get Fios in his own Hell’s Kitchen apartment. And he says that's because in Manhattan there are neighborhoods where you just can't run cables on telephone poles. There's no telephone poles outside and so you might have to string them from apartment building to apartment building. So even if your landlord is fine with having Fios you still might need permission from the landlord of the guy next door. Ray says it can get really complicated.
Which makes sense. And while Ray was talking I found it all pretty convincing. But then later Ray followed up with actual information about Matthew. It turned out that Verizon had tried to get in touch with Matt's landlord. They'd sent him a letter but it was addressed to Strickland Frederick instead of Fred Strickland, his name and it had just been one letter in the mail. It was definitely an attempt but as somebody who has sometimes not paid my cable bill i know that when a cable company really wants to get in touch with you they find other methods.
So, that’s what i got. I decided to call Matt back. Tell him what I’d learned and see what he thought.
PJ: Hey, Matt?
PJ: I told him everything. And Matt was like, "Yeah,yeah, yeah, sure it all makes sense. I don't trust Verizon. I don't trust the city." His big question was just why were they so freakin opaque with me?
MATT: I don’t know if like why they couldn’t like state it directly like, "Ok here’s what helps us come to a neighborhood to like you know make this happen." I mean maybe there's political reasons or what not but. . .
PJ: I have answers for you. Do you want the answers?
Matt: Oh, Yes of course I do.
PJ: Ok, so I asked, I asked the guy at Verizon, I was like, "You know a lot of people are upset with you not cuz they know they’re legally entitled to Fios but because you guys advertise this a lot. And like you put it on all your trucks and you drive it around and if you would just like target your advertising or be better about communicating with people say. . .if you said like, “Listen Crown Heights, you’re not going to get Fios any time soon.” Or if you said like “Listen Bedstuy you’re going to get Fios in 2 months,” like I think people would feel better. And. . .
PJ: So I think one reason they’re not doing it is because if they said that they’re not like they're legally supposed to be doing this anyway so if they were like, “We’re not doing it,” they could get in trouble. But but more interestingly, the guy said to me, he was like, "Listen, this is really competitive. Like we, we are kind of in this invisible war with Time Warner Cable…" he kept saying our competitors but in New York it’s Time Warner and I think Optimum. He’s like, "We’re in this war with them and if they knew that we were about to go to some neighborhood. but we hadn’t gone yet, they could run in and they could call all their existing customers." Like they could call you and they’d say like. ..
MATT: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
PJ: You know like, why don’t we give you a $20 discount and you just sign a 2 year exclusivity contract with us.
PJ: Which would. . .
MATT: Yeah yeah yeah.
PJ: Go ahead.
MATT: I mean, that is like the story… well that is exactly why consumers want competition and like the people providing the service don’t want it at all and you know, ultimately the thing that enrages…weirdly enough I was once on a very brief date with someone who worked for Time Warner Cable and like I couldn’t help but just be like “So what’s it like working for such a despised company?” And she’s like, “Well we’re not despised! Like everyone loves us. We have such a successful product." And I’m just sitting there thinking like, “Do you believe that?”
PJ: So then I told Matt about how Patricia, the other person who had been trying to get Fios, she had actually had success. She's getting it this week. And it seemed like in general the people who have the most luck are the people who have banded together. Who have gotten everybody on their block to agree that they want Fios.
PJ to Matt: Everybody lined up, everybody wants it. Is that encouraging or discouraging.
MATT: That's definitely encouraging. I mean that kind of puts me in a position where like I could do something to make this happen.
PJ: Can you see yourself, I mean you have a 4 month old son. But you also would like to have Fios. Could you see yourself doing that. MATT: So the thing is like, I've got a son but I also get way too much pleasure out of getting fixated on things like this, and figuring how to push things forward which is why I am talking to you right now. And so the the the next thing that this would become about is you know me stuffing like flyers in mailboxes around my block.
PJ: And you could see yourself doing that.
MATT: Oh, yeah. No I mean I'm sitting next to a printer like this could happen as soon as I'm off the phone.
PJ: Ok well so do you feel like do you feel like you're ticket has been resolved?
MATT: Oh yeah, like this goes like well beyond anything I was expecting to get out of this. When I submitted it this might be just like like way too convoluted for them to like be interested in and then like as I think about it more it's like, "No, no they like convoluted. That would actually play into this." So,
PJ: We live for convolution.
MATT: Oh my God I'm gonna have to like, you know what I'm going to do now is I'm gonna see where our cable connection comes into the building because it definitely comes in the front of our building which is more like telephone pole style, but I don't know where it's coming from I've never thought about it that much, clearly. . .
PJ: Reply All is me, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Benin. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. We were edited by Peter Clowney. Matt Lieber is light itself coursing throughout the city spreading information. Our show was mixed by Rick Kwan. Special thanks this week to Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica for helping us understand the world of fiber optic cable. Out theme music by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. The closing theme to Super Tech Support is "Simplicity" by Macroform, also known as the greatest hold music in the entire world. You can find more episodes of the show at itunes.com/replyall or at our website replyall.limo. And you can find this week's episode in article form on digg.com.
Thanks for listening. We'll see you in two Wednesdays.