My Verizon WiFi Ethics Dilemma

ProEthics (and our home, where it resides) is in Alexandria City, in Northern Virginia. We are dependent on the internet, but cannot get the high-speed variety, Fios, from Verizon, our provider. This has significant business and personal consequences: for one thing, it means that I can’t load video commentary on Ethics Alarms as I have wanted to do for years. For another, Verizon’s DSL service, at least mine, sucks. Lately it has been kicking out many times every day, sometimes after only being up for a few minutes.

We have called Verizon many, many times, in various states for fury,  to ask when  Fios will be available. The answers are scripted and vague, made to sound like the service will be available imminently. Nothing changes, however. Alexandria isn’t Hooterville: there are many businesses, and the residents would be a prime market for high-speed internet.

What’s going on here?

A contact at Verizon who swears us to keeping her identity secret told us recently that the problem is the city, which has refused permission to Verizon to install the necessary infrastructure until the company pays a demanded kickback. Apparently, our sources says, high-rise apartment complexes and some business properties have Fios because they can make their own deals with the provider.

Now what? I have no idea if all of this is true, although I an inclined trust my source. I do not have the resources or skill to investigate this myself. I have some contacts with the local news media, and I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try to get a reporter interested, but without a direct source at Verizon to refer one to, I doubt that I can. This appears to be municipal corruption that is harming citizens out of venal motives. I may have the key to unlocking the alleged scandal, and if I do, there is a civic and ethical duty to turn it.

And there goes my DSL! Must reboot now…

44 thoughts on “My Verizon WiFi Ethics Dilemma

  1. “Now what?…I have some contacts with the local news media, and I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try to get a reporter interested, but without a direct source at Verizon to refer one to, I doubt that I can.”

    But you do have a contact…granted, you didn’t secure her cooperation the first time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t contact Verizon again and work into the conversation a willingness to discuss what the first person discussed, then build the rapport to ask THAT person if they’d be willing to talk with a reporter in a private manner.

    Re-open your conversation with Verizon, if it’s *that* important.

  2. Go to an open City Council meeting and read basically what you just wrote here. Directly notify the press of what you intend to say and hopefully they will send someone to cover the response of the City Counsel. You should ask your source if they are wiling to share their “insider” information with the press after the story becomes public at the City Counsel meeting.

    • Talk to a bag man, er, zoning lawyer who works on cases in Alexandria. They will know who’s on the take and from whom and for what.

  3. Jack, maybe you can relocate to Wyoming, where there aren’t so many bandwidth hogs in the neighborhood. And can select from our vast array of internet providers! Spectrum, CenturyLink,…um… Did I mention Spectrum? Or there’s satellite internet, which throttles your download speed to 1/10th if you use more than 80 MB in any rolling 24-hour window…

  4. While I loathe comcast, they are the only game in town for decent high speed (meaning, above DSL) in my area.

    As for the Verizon employee blaming the city, I don’t put any weight behind that, it’s pointless as there’s no proof.

    according to the city at least, it looks like their plan is to foot the bill for a fiber optic network and then let companies use or lease it. Seems right now Comcast owns most of the fiber in the city from that article…now that I would be more willing to believe is responsible for Verizon not being able to get FIOS to you. Comcast does not like competition.

  5. Are you sure it’s actual kickbacks and not figurative kickbacks? For example, if Verizon needs the city’s permission to install fiber, the city might demand a payment for granting that right. Or they may demand that Verizon provides free Fios services to city schools, or donates service to local charities, or something like that. It’s sold as civic duty, but it’s also something politicians can point to as an accomplishment at the next election.

    This sort of thing has happened a lot with cellular towers — “You want a license for a tower? Give our schools a $250,000 grant to improve educational technology?” Real estate developers face the same pressures: Want zoning approval to build luxury apartments? Gotta build affordable housing too, so politicians can take credit for it.

    So not exactly a kickback, but pretty suspicious.

  6. Here in the relatively backward unincorporated area in the Florida panhandle where I live, I have the choice of broadband over cable from Comcast and WOW. I have used both and despite the very poor customer service ratings of both I haven’t had any major problems. Having read various horror stories regarding lack of high-speed internet, including yours now, I feel very fortunate.

    Both Ars Technica and Techdirt have reported extensively on the fact that the major telecommunications companies spend huge amounts of money lobbying to prevent the availability of high speed internet service by providers other than themselves. In January 13, 2017 Ars Technica reported, ““The Virginia House of Delegates legislation proposed this week by Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron (full text) would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. Among other things, a locality wouldn’t be allowed to offer Internet service if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. That speed threshold is low enough that it can be met by old DSL lines in areas that haven’t received more modern cable and fiber networks.” This type of legislation is part of the problem and has been passed in about 20 states thanks to telecom lobbying.

    Unethical behavior by Verizon itself is also a substantial part. A little searching will show that Verizon has reneged on multiple deals to provide FiOS service. New York City is suing them over their failure to meet their commitments to provide coverage. They are trying to get out deals in New Jersey. There are other states where they accepted financially lucrative deals in exchange for providing FiOS and have not followed through. In an article from Gizmodo January 30, 2015, “But at least in Verizon’s case, this map [of fiber coverage] just proves what we already knew to be true: Verizon’s big promises of fiber-for-all didn’t deliver the coverage we were hoping for. Just big, fat government subsidies to Verizon’s pockets.”

    • Welcome to the down side of deregulation. At one time companies like Verizon and Comcast were much more heavily regulated and had to answer to a much higher degree to local government and public commissions. There was greater price control (companies had to negotiate rates and price increases). There was at least a token effort to have or maintain competition, and the local government had a lot of influence in broadening coverage – access in schools and in neighborhoods regardless of socioeconomic considerations.

      After deregulation, local authority virtually vanished, and so did accountability. Freed up from more directly answering to the public commissions, companies like Verizon are freer to decide the infrastructure costs of delivering some services, like broadband and fiber to neighborhoods like yours, outweigh what they will eventually collect from it. THAT instead of “kickbacks” is why you are stuck in DSL hell. If the cost/proofit ratio were different, you’d have the full range of service other enjoy, perhaps even some competition. Always, ALWAYS follow the money.

      Speaking of competition, the loose regulatory environment we now have has created a serious digital divide, and some say broadband Red Lining, as the the major broadband providers essentially decided NOT to compete with each other in in many neighborhoods and entire markets.

      On the street I live on in Gaithersburg, Maryland, one side is all single family homes, and on my side, it is townhouses and apartments. There are a few dozen single family homes vs HUNDREDS of townhouses/apartments. Perversely, to me, the single family homes have the choice of at least 5 very high broadband providers, including 3 fiber options including FIOS. On my side of the street, DSL or Comcast. For those just across the street, they have constant offers of competing packages which keep their prices lower, and on our side of the street, we get nailed with poorer service and seemingly never ending price and fee escalations. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but clearly the companies passing on tapping the market of the hundreds of units on my side of the street have done the numbers and the cost/profit ratio is just not there.

      IF it were a question of kickbacks, then it would be unethical and you would have an obligation to at least attempt to expose it. But other than unsubstantiated remarks of your source, it lacks the weight of something to move on. In terms of a potential ethics issues, I believe it turns on how one looks at the responsibilities of these broadband companies. A laissez faire position would be that Verizon does not have any greater responsibility than to their bottom line. But, if you believe as some do, as I do, that digital access is now as essential as other utilities, THEN there is reason to question what they have done, even if it is unprofitable.

        • And what I have posted is suggesting that it is not a matter of Verizon and kickbacks to the city, but far more likely that it is a cost/benefit to Verizon.

      • This entire screed is internally inconsistent, in summary “It’s crap that there’s not enough competition, the solution is (competition stifling) regulation!”

  7. After learning that Fios was unavailable now and in the foreseeable future, we tried their Wi-Fi hot spot. It was remarkably slow and had a ridiculously low data limit. For two weeks of this totally unacceptable “service”, they charged us $400. I am no longer with Verizon.

  8. My understanding is that Verizon is required to negotiate with legal jurisdictions e.g. cities or counties, or large (very large) complexes when they want to install FIOS. My contact says that Verizon offered the City of Alexandria a certain amount of “fees” — that is, kickbacks — but that the City Council rejected that amount and wanted more. More for what? This is not service to the residents of the City. City managers can brag all they want about how the City was incorporated more than 400 years ago, its historic significance, and the cachet of living here, but basic services in the 21st century should not be determined by payola or bribes. We need to get to the City Council with this. (And FYI, this is not the part of Fairfax County that decided to call itself Alexandria, when it really is not…. This is the incorporated City itself, attached to no county in the Commonwealth of Virginia.)

  9. Could also try getting T1 cable service, which is almost as good as FiOS. NoVA and Washington are Metrocast territory IIRC.

    • Why would you want to trade 750 to 2,500 bps asynchronous service for a 1,500 bps synchronous service? And over aging cable network as well?


      Ok, Jack may be using phone lines for the DSL, which could explain his service issues. In that case, cable might be better… just don’t count on it. 🙂

      -from an fiber connected rural Internet speed snob

      • I think I hate you. We’ve had fiber optic cable buried across the street for close to twenty years and we’re still stuck with HughesNet of Dish Network. A couple of independent and VERY unreliable operations, but I would KILL for AT&T or Spectrum.

          • A couple of independent and VERY unreliable operations, but I would KILL for AT&T or Spectrum.

            I use none of those low rent companies. Have used both in the past, hated them as a network engineer. (I know when I am being lied to)

            Investigate north of San Antonio looking at the little phone companies in the southern Hill Country.

    • We can undo everything and enter the Comcast (Xfinity) zone, which is, as I have documented somewhat, horrible on its own. We have not had a good experience with ATT. But we have no choice now.

  10. Jack,

    You have an ability to circumvent your local provider’s poor bandwidth. Have you ever heard of remote log in? Place a (hopefully very capable) computer in a location where bandwidth is sufficient, and log in and work on that machine. Many apps allow remote screen, keyboard and mouse connectivity: I have used ‘Team Viewer’ before and was impressed.

    The remote machine actually runs the programs: you simply interact with the machine to see the screen, control the mouse, and type: no different to if you were sitting in front of it.

    Bonus: your internet usage will go down, and you can migrate to a cheaper Internet plan, partially offsetting the costs involved with using the remote computer. (Note that DSL is NOT ‘Broadband’ as defined by the FCC these days… and does not qualify for government subsidies for the providers)

    These can be located in a professional co-location site, and even be maintained by professionals. Heck, it can even be a virtual server! Look up for the concept (their prices are for companies so may look high: just see what is possible)

    Or you can sit the computer in an office closet (or bathroom /snark) of a friend and pay a small fee for electricity, bandwidth, and so on.

    Side note: out here in very rural Texas Hill Country I have 100 Mbps service to my home over fiber, and have 1 Gps available if I wanted it. Work has dual 100 Gbps service, working on 1,000 Gbps (or 1 Terabit per second). Of course, we provide broadband to rural areas in our business plan, and do it cheaper than the big boys (who did not want to come out here in years past)

      • Ahh, Tex, that is a political complaint while my posting is an engineering solution. Totally legal, ethical, and will only fatten your apparent bandwidth.

        We both live in Texas, which for all the regulations placed in our way is still remarkably like a free market when compared to where Jack lives. Prices are lower, taxes are lower, and companies are allowed to innovate.

        Government over regulation produces scarcity and the type of problems Jack and others have mentioned here.

        • I don’t think your engineering solution actually solves the problem as stated: Jack wants to put video on the site and doesn’t have the bandwidth to move the larger media files from where he is to where he isn’t but wants them to be.

          The remote solution presumes that all of his file storage is there as well, which probably isn’t feasible and certainly isn’t true today.


          P.S. Thanks to my Fairfax Privilege I actually have TWO FiOS connections to my house (yes, that’s two boxes on the side of the house and two sets of wires coming in) because it’s actually cheaper than running everything they offer through just the one of them due to price differences between Residential and Business service. They also offer gigabit speeds to my location, but I just don’t need that kind of speed….

          • I don’t think your engineering solution actually solves the problem as stated: Jack wants to put video on the site and doesn’t have the bandwidth to move the larger media files from where he is to where he isn’t but wants them to be.

            You miss my point. Jack accesses the Internet through the remote server, and only pushes his screen back to his house. Think as if you were face timing a friend and telling them what buttons to push on their computer. Whose bandwidth is used to post the videos? Theirs.

            The remote computer sits where there IS bandwidth to do what Jack wants. The remote computer runs everything as if he were in the room.

            The remote solution presumes that all of his file storage is there as well, which probably isn’t feasible and certainly isn’t true today.

            File transfer is no big deal: put the two computers in the same room and transfer away… once. After that, the remote computer IS the file storage.

  11. I’d be leery of accepting the Verizon source’s claims without doing some checking, mainly because Telecoms like Verizon have built up a whole slew of ways to talk about the problems with their service without accepting any blame, and I have no doubt they use those same methods internally as well as externally. I doubt the person is trying to deliberately mislead you, but there’s a very real possibility that what they’re hearing is corporate spin, to some degree.

    For instance, it’s not uncommon for them to refuse to move into a municipality, unless the municipality grants them exclusivity over some/all of the area it is responsible for. Because of this, municipalities often try to insist on certain provisions in the contract, such as access for the school or municipal facilities (which otherwise often won’t meet the population density requirements the telecom insists are necessary to make offering the service profitable), or upgrades to outlying portions of the network, that have been put off (overhauling is often cited as being too expensive to do regularly, if it doesn’t serve enough customers). Or, indeed, unrelated fees that can be used on other municipal resources, to make up for the lost revenues that competition would likely have brought in.

    That having been said… corruption in a municipal government? Definitely a probable scenario.

    That all having been said, if you want to interest a local media outlet, without pointing them directly at your source, it may be worth considering a public records request. I’m not sure how Virginia law looks on those… some states do allow a municipality to refuse to release records of ongoing negotiations. But some of this also depends on how often your municipality gets them; places that get only a few often don’t know what they can actually refuse to turn over, and will thus sometimes provide things they didn’t legally have to.

    • Tim is exactly right in how Verizon, municipalities, and Telecom generally work. Even in Texas we get this sort of shenanigans and media exposure usually does little to help until a crime is committed.

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