Boston Suburb Tries to Woo Verizon for Fiber

Haverhill, Mass., hopes to be the next city for Verizon New England's fiber Internet service. Boston recently closed a deal with the New York City-based business to receive $300 million in fiber optics investments.

by Peter Francis, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. / May 6, 2016
Communications fiber optics Flickr/Lucidio Studio

(TNS) -- City Council President John Michitson wanted the city to fight to become a proving ground for fiber optic broadband Internet.

Michitson said convincing Verizon New England to choose Haverhill would give the city a chance to lure high-tech businesses, creating jobs and boosting the economy.

But the road to convincing Verizon that Haverhill is a worthy guinea pig — similar to a recent deal struck between Verizon and the city of Boston, which will receive $300 million in fiber optics investments over the next six years — is turning out to be a difficult one.

Michitson said top-speed Internet is critical for businesses in Haverhill and for future manufacturing companies looking to move here.

But in an email from Donna Cupelo, New England regional president for Verizon, Michitson learned the company has no plans to expand outside Boston with fiber optic broadband service. That is a major blow to Michitson's plan to convince Verizon to invest in Haverhill as a "small city prototype."

Michitson said he is not giving up. He is setting his sights on the possibility of Haverhill adopting fiber optic Internet service as a municipal service similar to what some Massachusetts cities do with lighting.

His plan would have the fiber-optic service start in the city's downtown Transformative Development District and business parks, where there are high numbers of businesses.

The plan would eventually benefit resident directly, he said.

"With upload and download speeds of up to 500 megabits per second, it's the fastest Internet and Wi-Fi available," Michitson said, adding the arrival of fiber optics would increase competition with Comcast, Haverhill's sole cable provider, and drive down the costs of broadband Internet and TV services.

For businesses, Comcast offers 100 megabits per second by 20 megabits per second for $189 per month. The company offers Enterprise Fiber at speeds of 100 megabits by 100 megabits for between $1,500 and $3,000 per month.

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"With next generation FiOS broadband, 100 megabits by 100 megabits per second will cost about $99 per month," said Michitson. "That shows you right there the cost advantage for businesses in the city."

Michitson said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh began negotiating with Verizon to improve his city's Internet service when he took office in 2014. While he received rejections early on, Walsh persisted, developed a plan and enlisted the help of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to help him entice Verizon.

"It took two to three years, but they have a deal moving forward," Michitson said.

For Haverhill to develop the high-speed Internet plan on its own would require a "large upfront investment" for the city, Michitson said, but said it is something large cities such as Chattanooga, Tennessee. and rural Massachusetts towns like Leverett are adopting.

Michitson said he is looking into how Chattanooga was able to procure broadband Internet and establish it as a public utility.

"They appear to be the gold standard with this," he said. "I want to know what they built, how they built it, what it cost and whether it's feasible for us."

Despite Leverett's size — fewer than 2,000 people — Michitson said he intends to contact their officials as well to see how they were able to implement it.

"Is it going to be $50 million? $100 million? $150 million? How do we get the funding?" he said. "That is going to be a tough road, as well."

©2016 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.