SHIFT: Is Verizon FiOS just a beautiful mirage?

I'm sick of those damned FiOS commercials, the ones with that WASPy passive-aggressive FiOS installer guy driving the blobby red-bearded cable installer to distraction and, eventually, the unemployment line. If you live in New York City or one of the 12 states in which FiOS TV is available and are being subjected to uncountable showings of these and/or other FiOS "This Is Big!" commercials, you're probably sick of them, too.

Yeah, I get it. FiOS is big. It's the digital Enzyte. I should get FiOS, the natural HD and broadband enhancement. Got it.

One problem: I can't get it. And I'm not alone. But who does this hurt more: me or Verizon? Keep reading before you decide.

FiOS is available in Manhattan, just not in my north-tip-of-the-island neighborhood. Verizon says it'll have the whole city wired by 2014, but I'll bet my nabe will be near the bottom of the list.

So the problem really isn't those FiOS commercials. First, I'm not happy that the initially likable poor schmuck of a cable installer (played by comedian Matt McCarthy opposite FiOS hipster Jim Annan) has turned into a stalker. But the problem really isn't the content of these FiOS commercials, it's the frequency and their existence to begin with. These commercials do nothing but tease me and huge swaths of the market, each tempting airing a Sirens' call of digital delights that we'll taste… someday. Maybe. If Verizon is ever nice enough to visit.

I Hate Time Warner

In the meantime, I am stuck with expensive and sucky Time Warner Cable and its even suckier Roadrunner broadband service. (The angry opinions expressed here are solely those of this dissatisfied cable curmudgeon and in no way reflect the views of DVICE or NBC Universal. But they might. — editor)

On the HDTV side, Time Warner just dropped Marc Cuban's HDNet channels. HDNet was one of the few intelligent and long-form news sources, and HDNet Movies offered high-def flicks not found on HBO/Cinemax/Showtime/TMC/Starz!/Encore/MGM, etc. — Donnie Darko, Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness, a lot of older classic films and all three Godfather films in HD. Instead of HDNet, Time Warner gave us MavTV, some Spike TV wannabee.

And even though Scientific Atlanta, the company that supplies Time Warner with its cable boxes (at least in NYC), has had multi-room DVR technology for years, Time Warner doesn't offer it. And, thanks to an aging coax cable infrastructure, I get digital glurps, burbles and hiccups on many channels, often rendering shows unwatchable.

On the broadband side, I signed up for Time Warner's supposedly rocket-fast PowerBoost 15 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload Roadrunner broadband. In the middle of the night, the net is meep meep plenty fast. But during the day when everyone and their elderly aunts — and my home-working wife — are online, it moves slower than Wiley E. Coyote sans Acme rocket pack, when it's not out altogether.

Why FiOS is Better Than Cable

You can ignore that whole 100-plus HD channels FiOS hoopla. It's true, FiOS offers 114 HD channels in all its markets, but Time Warner now offers nearly 100 channels (it would have been closer to 100 if they'd kept the two HDNet channels, but I digress). But it's not the quantity but the quality. I have several friends and acquaintances who positively purr when they extoll FiOS' HD video purity. Why is FiOS' TV noticeably more HD'er? Cable uses old-fashioned MPEG-2 compression, FiOS the more efficient MPEG-4 H.264 compression. And with fiber optic pulled right to your home (not just included in the overall infrastructure), FiOS is free of digital glurps, burbles or hiccups that discombobulate my cable couch potato'ing.

FiOS TV also offers 1,400 HD video on demand titles, nearly 10 times the number as Time Warner, 70% of them free. You also can remotely program your DVR. But it's FiOS' 50 Mbps down/20 Mbps up broadband service, which doesn't suffer from cable's inherent user bottleneck, that's the biggest plus for me. And Verizon will soon roll out capabilities to search for Internet-based content to supplement its built-in widgets.

FiOS isn't the only cable alternative. AT&T's U-Verse offers similar high video quality, multi-room DVR, widgets, remote DVR access, and slightly faster (18 Mbps) — and presumably more consistent and reliable — broadband services.

Oddly, neither Verizon FiOS nor AT&T U-Verse are pushing their most obvious corporate advantages over cable: adding a wireless option to their TV/Internet/Voice bundles. But that's another column.

The Bad News

What about price? Are FiOS or U-Verse less expensive than cable? Don't know, don't care. I'd be willing to pay more just to roast the Roadrunner. FiOS seems like a dream alternative to Time Warner, but the Web is piled high with complaints about FiOS service, installation, billing, etc. So maybe it's a good thing that I can't get it yet, but it would be nice to be able to try it out.

But all this is moot. Neither U-Verse or FiOS are available everywhere, the whole raison d'être of this rant. U-Verse's fiber-optic network is available to around 18 million homes in 93 markets in 19 states, just not the Northeast. It's available in Manhattan, Kansas, but not in my Manhattan, and probably won't be in my lifetime. FiOS TV is available in fewer markets than U-Verse — 12 states, reaching a 9.7 million homes.

Just not mine.

Or mine. — editor