By now, we’re used to our local internet monopolist taking its pound of flesh in return for access to a basic utility. We also know that maintaining that monopoly — and crushing any attempts at competition — is the key to keeping those annual profits ticking.
So I guess that it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Verizon is allegedly going out of its way to stop Charter from deploying broadband in New York State. But the brazenly anti-competitive practices alleged in a complaint from Charter to the NY State Public Service Commission still makes for surprising reading.
The problems surround Charter’s need to attach wires or equipment to roadside poles owned or co-owned by Verizon. Attaching to existing poles is commonplace, and generally a right supported by law to prevent our streets turning into a mess of competing utility poles.
In order to make way for Charter’s equipment, Verizon has to move some of its own equipment on poles. The standard process is that Charter identifies the work that has to be done, applies to Verizon to get that to happen, pays Verizon for the manpower and time involved, and then can finally attach its own equipment to the poles.
It’s already a bureaucratic nightmare, but in a complaint to the PSC, Charter claims that Verizon is being uniquely annoying:
“Since the Buildout Condition took effect in May 2016, Charter has submitted 822 pole attachment applications to Verizon, requesting permits to attach to 55,856 poles—nearly a third of all of the poles that Charter needs to access in order to meet its buildout requirements. In connection with those applications, Charter has paid $409,296 to Verizon in application fees. To date, however, Verizon has approved only 179 of those applications and has released only 4,048 poles to Charter—a mere 7 percent of poles for which Charter has submitted applications to Verizon. Verizon has not conducted any pre-construction surveys for 51 percent of Charter’s applications (representing 62 percent of the poles), despite accepting Charter’s payment of application fees to pay for such work.”
In response, Verizon said that “We have been more than cooperative and even presented Charter with options to speed up their construction efforts. For them to try to shift blame is puzzling at best. We stand ready to continue to assist them and again provide them with the methods to speed things up.”
Verizon’s potential motivation for dragging its feet is obvious: Charter is trying to bring internet and TV service into regions where Verizon is the only high-speed provider, and competition has this nasty habit of driving prices down. “The cumulative effect of Verizon’s conduct has been to frustrate Charter’s ability to bring its services to additional areas in the state and offer competitive alternatives to ‘bottleneck’ providers—including competing against Verizon itself,” Charter told Ars Technica.
In fairness, Charter isn’t trying to expand to new areas out of the goodness of its heart. The broadband rollout is a condition imposed on Charter due to its purchase of Time Warner Cable. Regulators often put “competition” clauses on new mergers to try and ensure that in return for two companies merging, they also keep expanding to provide competition. In Charter’s case, it was supposed to expand service to 36,250 new houses by May, and a total of 145,000 by May 2020. Charter says that Verizon is standing in the way of its expansion, and wants the PSC to use its enforcement powers to speed things up.