Sunday, March 20, 2005

Verizon FIOS - Laying Fiber, Wreaking Havoc

At the most recent MC Cable Communications Advisory Committee (CCAC) meeting, we continued our discussion over Verizon's massive county-wide installation of FIOS. As I mentioned earlier, Comcast had encountered numerous problems - at our previous meeting they described 92 line cuts that they believed were due to FIOS installers. The County Cable Office was concerned enough that they sent out their own inspectors, inspectors traditionally used by the County to inspect Comcast and Starpower work.

Although the committee had listened to Comcasts allegations, we had no proof and some of us were sceptical. Two members of the committee, Kernan Chaisson and Gabe Ruiz, volunteered to visit three Verizon worksites to investigate in person together with Comcast representatives who knew of Verizon activity in the area. I'll let the report speak for itself with an excerpt of the site-specific part:
Site 1: Lescot Terrace, Olney, Maryland

Installation crews had worked in the cul-de-sac the day before. There were reports of five cuts to Comcast lines during the work. There were also a reported three cuts to non-active lines in the area.

The resident at 16636 Lescot Terrace spoke to us about his experience the day before. He felt the crews were ignoring the MissUtility markings. Besides the Comcast damage, he said the crews pulled up a survey stake on his property and were installing a junction box on his property instead of in the public easement because they were using the wrong property plats. It appeared they used the tracks in the lawn made by the owner's dog as the property line. Verizon agreed to move the box off the private property. They cut through the 'invisible fence' that he had installed for his dog and was unable to get the CableCom worker to understand he should stop damaging the line because the only person who spoke English and the resident ended up having to repair the cable himself. he expressed concern about observing the crews hitting on the gas lines with their shovels. The resident reported that within 90 minutes of calling in the problem, Comcast had repaired his damaged cable. There were obvious marks of disturbance, but more work was to be done; so it was impossible to evaluate how well the area was being restore after the Verizon work.

Site 2: Debenham and Fox Valley Drive, Rockville, MD

Crews were actively working at this site in an area running along roughly three blocks. The area showed that installations were underway with equipment, conduit, and other materiel around and many holes dug along the side of the streets. The Line of Disturbance was roughly what could be expected from a job of this nature. It appeared that many of the homeowners were away, so there was no way to determine what outages had been caused by the work. A disturbing find was a worker sitting in a hole dug for installation of a junction box. he was in the process of splicing a TV cable. Mr. Ruiz was able to find out that the line has been cut while digging the hold for the junction. The young man said they decided to lengthen and reroute the Comcast cable. Mr. McNichol checked, there had been no trouble calls (although the homeowner seemed to be away). The CableCom worker said instructions were if it was a single line (to a subscriber's house) and not a trunk line just repair it and not call the damage in. The crew supervisor validated this instruction. The crews said this is what they were instructed on other jobs while working installations for Comcast in other areas; but Comcast had not approved this for this job. This patch compromises the integrity of the line by inserting connectors and new cable and exposing the line to possible mud contamination may show up as degraded digital or broadband performance or trouble sometime in the future.

Site 3: Gold Mine Road, Brookeville, MD

This was a restore side, work had been done days before. Restoration was sloppy, at best. There were spots that had apparently been dug up and had gress seed put down with a pile of straw over the top. At this site Comcast had run 1500' of cable above ground because there had been multiple cuts in the original cable. This got the subscribe back on line quickly, and a crew would come back to bury the line properly.

Clearly what they found was astonishing. Some crews were careless, rushing, and doing dangerous things such as cutting through cable and wires and hitting gas lines. Some of the workmen didn't speak English so residents were unable to communicate with them directly. And the policies of how to handle cable cuts were all over the place, and didn't make much sense, and in any case, at odds with official policy. (According to Verizon policy, crews are to report all cable cuts.) The idea of a Verizon workman taking it upon himself to lengthen, reroute, and reconnect a Comcast line (a trunk according to Comcast) was incredible. While some of the Verizon crewmembers may know how to splice cable properly, they don't have access to Comcast's boxes for proper testing. And even if they do get splices working at the time, all of these splices are underground, a harsh environment, and if they aren't done exactly right, they can work for a while, weeks, months, and then fail. Months later, the public will have long forgotten Verizon was mucking around in the neighborhood and Comcast will be left with stains on their reputation that they don't deserve.

Jane Lawton, MC Cable Office Adminstrator, remarked that when Comcast did its upgrade (a few years ago), the County sent out inspectors to accompany crews to see work was done properly and that this was an outcome of the difference between local and state inspection. I'm not sure what she meant by that - because obviously Comcast had many flawed installations - for example, our inspectors have reported improper grounding in Comcast installs for years! Perhaps what she meant was that her office doesn't have the authority to control Verizon and what they do. Verizon remains regulated only by the state while Comcast is regulated by the local franchise authority. (Of course, both are regulated to some extent by the FCC but the FCC doesn't do inspections!)

I've been observing Verizon's work in my own neighborhood and although I've seen some of the problems that the report noted (for example, many of the workers do not speak English so I could not ask them questions), I haven't heard complaints of cable cuts or sloppy work or for that matter, any complaints from neighbors in my area. In fact, the Verizon installers (that did speak English) were more than happy to speak to me about their work and seemed quite proud of it. They happily explained what they were doing and in some cases (like in front of my house, grrr) pointed out how the Comcast cabling in the same easements was not just sloppy but violated standard practice and should be rewired or replaced completely.

Here are some pictures I took showing what the Verizon crewmembers pointed out. In the first picture, someone must've inadvertently cut the line and instead of Comcast putting in a new drop, they spliced it (shown between red arrows).

The next picture shows the backside of the pole where Comcast had installed a splitter (3.5dB loss) instead of running separate drops. The splice and splitter went to my neighbor's house. The 'good' side of the splitter went to my house.

A few other notes

A Verizon foreman said that all homes are hung with door tags with a phone number to call for problems. But when we queried some residents, they denied ever getting any such tags.

Kernan reported that digging may be automatic up to 36" deep after which it must be hand done. In the digging I observed, it's a half and half process. A backhoe makes the crude holes, the crew roughs them out further, and then drop a missile-shaped device that is aimed horizontally and automatically chews from one hole to the next. To me, the 'missile' process looked extremely crude - just aim and let go. So marking out the underground utilities to avoid them later is crucial. However, that appears to be what's going wrong - all these cuts are either due to ignoring the markings or the markings being wrong from the get go.

Of course, incorrect markings may be Comcast's fault. Comcast is obliged to mark their own wires and if they choose not to or do so poorly, of course Verizon will slice through them. Probably there's a lot of sloppiness going on - on both the parts of Comcast and Verizon. As for things underground that the residents are responsible for, such as invisible fencing, that would never be marked by MissUtility. I'm not sure what the solution is there other than to avoid laying it in easements and other places that the utilities will 'obviously' need to use.

Gabe also mentioned a term I had never heard before: Exactions. He said that the county may require developers to install conduit or trenching which is to be shared. He provided a reference to "Code 50" which I will look up at some point to find out more.

The "Mr. McNichol" referenced above is Kevin McNichol, Director of Engineering for Comcast of Montgomery County.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is in some areas of the county, installation of FIOS by Verizon is causing serious problems. Comcast and other utilities may be part of the problem as well but clearly Verizon is at fault for sure. We're not close to the negotiations but according to Comcast statements, Verizon is reimbursing Comcast for costs related to any damage, so at least they're working together at some level. However, in the meantime, customers can have their service disrupted and potentially dangerous conditions can arise. It is for these reasons, that the city of Rockville has refused Verizon access to their rights-of-way. Verizon cannot get any permits to do installs in the city of Rockville and thus, Rockville residents will not getting FIOS for the foreseeable future.

Is Rockville doing the right thing and the rest of Montgomery County doing the wrong thing? Or vice versa?


Anonymous said...

I just got FIOS installed at my house in Bethesda. It was very disruptive. The product is far better and much less expensive ($49/month) than any product Comcast had to offer me ($200/month for the a worse product). Everyone running the wires in the street spoke English. I had no problem speaking to them. The installers who come inside my property (7 of them) all spoke English and answered all questions I had. I think FIOS is an upgrade that we have needed for a very long time to compete with Comcast. I think the short term disruptions are well worth the long term benefits of FIOS.

Anonymous said...

I have seen some worst jobs of Verizon crews. For ex. they dropped their line to my friend house, and they ran it through his lawn. The line is barely underground which my friend think after couple rain, it will show up on the ground. I told him to call back and have Verizon send out another team to burry the line deep into the ground.

Anonymous said...

The comcast cutting cable installers from verizon are at it in Coppell Texas. Today they dug a hole directly in line with the orange painted stripes indicating the comcast line. They made a clean break in the cable line. Our comacast is now down. Verizon is pretty dirty, and this won't win customers.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Howard Co. MD resident struggling with Comcast and Verizon. Comcast installed a 'temporary' line 7 months ago and never buried it. May 1 it got cut and due to a pre-scheduled FiOS install for May 10, I cancelled Comcast. It's now May 24 and after two cancelled appointments by Verizon, to this day I have no buried wire for the FIOS install scheduled for tomorrow. 10+ calls to Verizon to report this problem have been fruitless.

Anonymous said...

I now use FIOS for internet, and it is fantastic. Getting there was a problem, though. When the crews were installing the fiber to our neighborhood, it was a hurried fiasco. Besides damage to sidewalks, curbs, driveways, landscaping, etc., they managed to break our water line. When I contacted Verizon to rectify this, they directed me to their contractors. But each contractor is blaming the other, and Verizon not taking steps to reimburse us for what turned out to be significant expenses.
Anyone with similar experiences? How do you get them to take responsibility for their damages?

Anonymous said...

YES. Same problem. With TCS - a subcontractor in Tampa, FL. Verizon will not even talk to me about it. I am in the process of contacting everyone who has visible damage and looking to bring suit if not rectified. jp at

Enrico Bignotti said...

I live in Ashburn, Va. I don't subscribe to Verizon FiOS, but they came through our neighborhood and dug up lawns, cut through my cable, and just about everyone else's. Comcast put one of those "temporary" cables in my yard that I've got a feeling will be there for months. The Verizon contractors also cut a 2 ft. wide slice across the middle of my driveway. They say they will repave the driveway from the cut part down to the curb, but not up to my garage, that would cost $1700 extra. I don't think a two-tone driveway with a seam across the middle will have much curb appeal when I try to sell my house. I need to get Verizon to pony up for the driveway. My next stop is with the HOA to see how high the complaints are stacking up. I didn't ask for any of this.

Anonymous said...

folks, this is what happens when a developed country with poorly planned infrastructure tries to get up to speed with technology. The RIGHT thing for Rockville, or any other city / county to do is to suck up the pain and develop a long term plan for safe, underground, documented and upgradeable utilities. If verizon isn't making it into a jurisdiction its not because the inconvenience of their work on some citizens, its because someones pockets are getting lined with cash.

Anonymous said...

Tcs is putting in conduit for the fiber in North
Port Florida at this time, I was among the first
streets to be done. They are using FOREIGN HELP THAT DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH with three ENGLISH speaking controllers. The work is
sloppy with boxes in the ground that are not even. Thankfully they have moved on to another neighborhood.

Jimmy Bosse said...

UGH! I understand the city has its issues with Verizon, however banning them from FIOS installation only prevents the city for technological progress. Anyone that has ever had the joy of experiencing FIOS bandwith knows its like night and day. Imagine if I told you you could only have a telegraph because I didn't feel Verizon would be very careful installing a telephone line to your house. You wouldn't stand for it!

Anonymous said...

I just moved to Rockville. I had FIOS at my other home. I have DSL now. I am very disappointed at Rockville's decision to not grant rights-of-way to Verizon. I would like to start a grass roots campaign to petition the Rockville government to change its position. Is anyone out there willing to work with me on this?


Alan Harper

Anonymous said...

Verizon is installing FIOS in Safety Harbor. Their contractors are Advanced Communications USA. and the crews are non-English speaking except the foreman. They messed up lots of lawns and placed boxes wherever they saw fit so folks now have this junk marring their landscape. I'd like to know who regulates this nonsense and if anyone has filed suit yet to recoup money spent on properly rectifying the damage done to private property.

Anonymous said...

Verizon just finished wreaking havoc throughout my neighborhood,
in Westminster Ca.

They've damaged the Curbs, sidewalks, irrigation sysytems, and driveways I have cracked busted up slabs & chipped up curbing, and I've notice the same curb gouging & chipping anywhere where the Sidwalk was busted out with a chipping implement on a Bob Cat

Westminster's Engineers side with the Contractor and Suggest I pay for the Damaged Concrete

I would'nt Buy Services from Verizon if they were half of what I pay time Warner

Anonymous said...

I live in Loudoun county, Virginia. Verizon is hiring a subcontractor to install FIOS in our community. Last week the subcontractors damaged my driveway badly. The crews were careless when performing their job. And they do not speak English and it's hard to communicate with them.

I called Verizon (it took hours to reach a Verizon rep.) and the subcontractor, they will just patch my driveway but will not do a thorough repair.

Rockville did a right thing not allowing Verizon to install FIOS in the city.

Anonymous said...

Verizon. Heh. They cut through my Comcast cable AND my invisible fence for my dog. I have 3 kids and had no phone, no internet, and no TV for a week thanks for Verizon's "handy work". No thanks. I canceled.

myoptions said...

The problem is not with Verizon or FIOS but with the horde of questionably "qualified" FIOS subcontractors doing hack jobs with installation. Verizon has to step up and use their own company installers. DirecTV had years of installtion problems too initially until they shaped up their subcontractor installers. Verizon has to do the same with their FIOS thing. Also, I do not trust Cox or Comcast with their allegations either. They know nothing about competition while cable consortiums run their retard commercials about how Cable brought competition. I hope FIOS get their act together so that they can put Comcast and Cox out of business. I don't trust crap they spew off either. Now they face real competition from growth of FIOS and they cannot handle it.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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