This year the Don’t Bypass Buffalo Coalition has been reminding Verizon Communications that it’s not just suburban customers who want to add fiber to their connectivity diet. Verizon has deployed its FiOS phone, internet, and television services throughout many of Buffalo’s adjacent suburbs, but has made the decision to exclude the city of Buffalo, reflecting a separate and unequal divide between city and suburban residents.
Recently, while at the Village Beer Merchant on Elmwood with the Buffalo Cash Mob, someone who knows whereof he speaks pointed across the street at the Verizon building on Elmwood Avenue and told me that Verizon’s FiOS hub was there. Not just the hub for wiring, but also the servers and other associated equipment. Right there, in the midst of our city.
So why in the world would Verizon exclude a community making up a quarter of the population of Erie County, given that their equipment is already in its midst? Jim Anderson, State Board Vice President of Citizen Action, and a member of the Coalition, has an idea. He considers it “their version of redlining — a well known racist tactic often seen in bank loans and housing issues.”
That’s quite a statement. Would Verizon redline Buffalo — knowingly and intentionally? Not pulling any punches, Jim asserts exactly that: “Verizon’s local representative acknowledged that Verizon’s deployment of FiOS service was done purposefully — they planned it! In Verizon refusing service to Buffalo, they knew African American and Hispanic communities would be largely excluded from access to FiOS service. Verizon knows that those able to connect to FiOS service have a competitive edge, while those without service were severely disadvantaged.” And what does that imply? Jim asserted, “The refusal of Verizon to provide FiOS service in Buffalo requires state and federal agencies to investigate possible racial and economic discrimination by Verizon.”
Beyond being discriminatory and harmful policy, it sounds like plain bad business to me. Jim Anderson agrees:
Makes you wonder what was in their business plan, that would make them redline the city of Buffalo? How did they not see the wrong in their purposeful plan of excluding service to Buffalo? Verizon’s local representative vigorously defends Verizon’s inept FiOS deployment plan. Many community leaders, standing together, have tried to seek the opportunity to address our concerns to the Verizon level where the decisions are made. Corporate entities across our nation, in numerous local communities, have yet to see the importance and necessity for ensuring they bring benefit to the communities they exist.
Working to ensure racial justice in the state is among the missions of Citizen Action of New York, Jim told me.
Taking their campaign on the road — or even better, alongside it — this week members of the Don’t Bypass Buffalo Coalition gathered for the unveiling of a new billboard campaign highlighting the role Verizon’s fiber optic network plays in exacerbating the digital divide here in Western New York.
Also this week, the Coalition released a letter (PDF) signed by two dozen local elected officials and community leaders that calls on federal and state representatives, and regulatory agencies, to investigate possible racial and economic discrimination by Verizon in the deployment of the FiOS network. In the letter, they discussed the racial and ethnic disparity in the access to this technology, referencing the fact that in the 10 suburbs where Verizon offers FiOS, the proportion of African-American residents in those areas is more than 13 times lower than it is in the City of Buffalo, and the Hispanic population is nearly 4 times lower. The letter also outlined the network structures already in place that would facilitate the process of deploying FiOS within the city limits.
All this comes amidst a larger backlash against Verizon for their poor corporate citizenship. This week, Western New York’s Coalition for Economic Justice and the Unity at Verizon campaign took Verizon to task:
Why does this fight matter? Verizon earned $22.4 billion in profits in the last 4 1/2 years, and are on track for record profits of $6.1 billion this year. On top of this, Verizon is has received $1.9 billion in tax refunds and subsidies over the past year! The Top 5 Verizon executives took home $258 million over the last 4 years. Yet, while worker productivity is increasing, Verizon is demanding concessions from workers to add to those profits, in a boldfaced attack on the middle class. In fact, this has already been dubbed as a “Wisconsin moment for the private sector.” A profitable company like Verizon should be creating good, middle-class jobs, not destroying them. Verizon has over 800 workers in the Buffalo region.
As a final thought — question, really — Jim Anderson left me with this:
Does Verizon have FiOS service available in their own Verizon offices in Buffalo? Why, what’s the advantage?
Good question! Verizon–?
Don’t Bypass Buffalo
Jennifer Diagostino at the Coalition for Economic Justice
Unity at Verizon
Andy at the Coalition for Economic Justice
892-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.