Avery Axel was annoyed with his cable company, Comcast, and was considering switching to Verizon's new FiOS fiber-optic TV and Internet...

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NEW YORK — Avery Axel was annoyed with his cable company, Comcast, and was considering switching to Verizon’s new FiOS fiber-optic TV and Internet service.

The picture on his TV would freeze now and then, and he had heard good things about FiOS. Then the 21-year-old student saw a TV commercial from Comcast that made fun of FiOS and claimed the cable-TV company has a larger fiber-optic network.

“I thought to myself: Maybe I don’t have to switch, because if Comcast has fiber optics now, that means that they’ll be better,” said Axel, who lives in Roosevelt, N.J.

But after asking around online, he found that nothing’s changed about Comcast’s service: It still uses coaxial cable to connect homes. It does use fiber-optic cable farther away in the network, as it has for many years.

Axel had fallen for one of a series of commercials run by every major cable company that competes with Verizon’s FiOS. Besides Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Charter have all run ads belittling FiOS.

Fiber doesn’t hit home

The ads have a curiously similar message, emphasizing that cable networks “are” fiber-optic, even though none of the companies draw fiber all the way to the home, as Verizon does in most cases when it installs FiOS. This allows for higher Internet speeds and, according to Consumer Reports, better picture quality. (In the Seattle area, Verizon is building out its FiOS service, and it’s now available in areas of the Eastside and Snohomish County.)

“Cable is deploying the rhetoric instead of the technology,” said Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson.

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said the ad was referring to the fact that the company has the largest “residential” fiber network in the nation, stretching for 125,000 miles, and noted that a freezing picture doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the network technology.

“Our ads reinforce the value and scope of our fiber network to our customers,” she said, adding that the fact that Verizon uses fiber to the home makes little difference in the services it can provide. Comcast has started upgrading its network to provide FiOS-like speeds in 20 percent of its markets this year.

Comcast has also started running newspaper ads with the message; “We already have a fiber-optic network serving ALL our homes” reads one in The Seattle Times.

Fiber-optic lines have been the main conduit for telecommunications since the ’80s. In the late-’90s, cable companies upgraded their networks to draw fiber closer to homes, which allowed them to offer broadband, video on demand and other services. The fiber lines end at neighborhood nodes, where the signal is transferred to a coaxial cable shared among as many as 500 households. The shared nature of the coaxial network and its susceptibility to electrical noise limits its capacity.

Verizon’s FiOS network also shares capacity, but among fewer households, and the fiber itself has nearly unlimited data capacity.

Mike Weaver in Watauga, Texas, saw an ad from Charter that talked about “advanced fiber optics,” and was disappointed when he realized that the cable company isn’t drawing fiber to the home. He wants the faster Internet speeds provided by FiOS, he said.

Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont said the intent behind the current ads, which say the company has been using fiber for the past 10 years, “is to reassure current Charter customers that they, too, have fiber-optic technology bringing their homes to life.”

Advertising tiff

In an ad from Time Warner Cable, an enthusiastic Verizon salesman shows up at a doorstep and starts talking about “The Fiber.” The homeowner holds up a bowl of cereal and retorts, “I think I’m taken care of in that department,” adding that Time Warner Cable has been using fiber for over a decade.

Time Warner Cable got into a legal tussle with Verizon over a longer version of the ad, which Verizon saw as implying that subscribers need a satellite dish to get FiOS. Time Warner Cable is no longer running the ad, said spokesman Alex Dudley.

“Lately it seems everybody is talking fiber optics,” says a suave man in Cablevision’s commercial for its Optimum cable service. “The Optimum Network is fiber-optic. Your phone company? Talking fiber, even though a lot of their network isn’t.”

A Cablevision spokesman did not return calls about the ad, which appears to highlight the fact that FiOS isn’t available in Verizon’s entire local-phone service area.

An ad for Cox Communications shows a curbside, accompanied by voice-over: “Years ago, Cox laid advanced fiber-optic cable right about here. Now the phone company wants to come along and do it too. The old phone company and its new network is about a decade behind Cox … Thanks, but … I don’t need any more fiber.”

Cox spokesman David Grabert said that ad is no longer on the air, but it is preparing a new batch of videos that “address Verizon’s competitive weakness.”

For its part, Verizon has taken some criticism for claiming in ads that FiOS provides “uncompressed” high-definition TV signals. All TV providers, including Verizon, provide digital TV signals that are compressed to reduce the bandwidth needed. Henson said Verizon was trying to convey that it didn’t apply additional compression to the video it receives, which some cable companies do. It has stopped running that ad, preferring instead to focus on customer testimonials about the picture quality.