Verizon blocks county from using its poles

Government-school fiber optic project would allow move to VoIP, so Verizon refused to share its poles. Now residents have to look at two sets of poles.

You gotta love Verizon. They're tearing up New York City to install their own fiber-optics so they can better compete with the city's cable franchises. But when a school-government consortium in Michigan wanted to use the phone company's poles to string fiber for a public project? No way. The Muskegon (Mich.) Chronicle (provide anonymous data to view) reports that Verizon refused permission to the Shoreline Fiber Network, claiming that state law forbids the use of their poles. So the Network decided to erect its own power poles.

The result is a crowd of power poles on streets like Creston and Shonat, where Verizon poles sometimes are within a few feet of the new ones. Local officials are fuming about Verizon's actions, calling them "delay tactics" and "sabotage." The total cost of avoiding Verizon poles is estimated at more than $300,000, said officials with the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, which spearheaded the fiber project.

"This is a classic case of a project that has been developed for the common good going up against corporate self-interest," said MAISD Superintendent Susan Meston.

It seems that Verizon will lose business when the project, over budget and two years late, finally goes live. The purpose of the government fiber is to switch from Verizon phone service to VoIP. And schools are interested too.

The leased T1 lines, which cost Muskegon County $72,000 per year, do not have the capacity to handle the sophisticated software, security requirements and large data loads the county needs, said Eduardo Bedoya, manager of information systems for the county.

"What we have now is inadequate," Bedoya said.

The county estimates the consortium project will save $6 million over the next 10 years, and will enable 911 to $4.4 million in dispatch improvements.

State law requires Verizon to allow educational institutions to use their poles but is silent on whether a consortium that includes schools and other bodies is covered. Government officials say it's not; Verizon says they are expressly forbidden. Rather than get caught up in legal tangling, the consortium decided to install its own poles.

Central Dispatch wound up finding a way to avoid the Verizon conduit, said David McCastle, executive director of Muskegon Central Dispatch. "It makes me angry because somewhere along the line, I have to guess their stand has to be fiscally motivated," McCastle said. "In the name of their dollar bottom line, they want to do what they can to mess with people in Muskegon County.

"It's better if someone doesn't want to play to just take your ball and walk away from them."

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