Fast and relatively cheap fiber-optic Internet service to the home is expected to finally reach the Puget Sound region next year, when Verizon...

Share story

Fast and relatively cheap fiber-optic Internet service to the home is expected to finally reach the Puget Sound region next year, when Verizon Communications plans to upgrade a portion of its network.

Verizon’s Fios service would give the region its first taste of the cutting-edge networks that consumers abroad have enjoyed for years, and that U.S. phone companies are now deploying across the country.

Phone companies are spending billions to upgrade their systems to deliver broadband and video services as well as telephony to compete with the cable-TV industry and Internet phone services eroding their market.

But don’t toss out your old modem just yet.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Only 60,000 homes and small businesses will have access to the service initially, starting in the second half of 2006. It’s not clear how fast or how far the service will be extended in the future.

It may never reach all the places Verizon now serves with 850,000 copper lines in the state.

The service is to come next year to portions of Redmond, Bothell, Kirkland and Kenmore; small portions of Bellevue and Everett; and adjacent areas of King and Snohomish counties. Customers will be notified by mail if and when the service is available.

Washington would become the 16th state to get the service from New York-based Verizon.

Qwest, the state’s other major phone company, is testing technology to boost the speed of its slower, cheaper DSL service. A spokeswoman could not say when it will be available.

Fiber-optic cables are commonly used today by phone companies, and many businesses and municipalities use them for communications and Internet access. But it’s less common and generally expensive to have fiber to the home.

Fios service could pressure other providers to limit or lower their prices. It will cost less and provide faster connections that Comcast’s broadband service, for instance.

Verizon said Fios will cost $39.95 a month for 5 megabits per second or $49.95 per month for 10 megabits per second; prices would be $5 less if customers also subscribe to Verizon phone service.

Also available would be a 30-megabit service for $199.95 a month, or $179.95 in a bundle.

Comcast currently charges $55.95 a month for service at 4 to 6 megabits per second. It’s $10 less for subscribers who also get cable-TV service.

Fios would deliver only fast Internet service at first, but it would have capacity to deliver television and voice services via the Internet.

Verizon began delivering “triple play” service with phone, Internet and 300-channel television service in Texas in September, partly using Microsoft TV software.

One obstacle for Verizon is a regulatory system that gives local governments the authority to collect fees from companies using public property to deliver television service. Cable-TV companies in effect pay rent for laying cables across public land, but phone companies have been treated differently because they provide a service considered more essential than television.

As it adds TV and other new services, Verizon is pushing to change the law so that its services are regulated at the state and federal level rather than by local authorities. But it will simultaneously begin asking local governments in Washington next year for permission to deliver television services in their communities.

The issue is a prickly one for cities that fear their ability to charge for use of public property could erode.

“Anything that takes away revenue based on proper management of the public’s right of way is of concern,” said Patrick Hirsch, Redmond’s video-communications manager.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, are to appear today at a Verizon ceremony in Bothell announcing the network upgrade.

Gregoire spokeswoman Carol Andrews was not aware of any Verizon request for regulatory changes related to its Fios service in Washington; she said the governor is attending because the service will benefit the state’s economy.

“They’re going to be announcing some technological advances that create jobs and will contribute significantly to the state’s economy,” she said.

Verizon is hiring 65 people to manage and install the system in Washington. It expects contracting firms working on the network upgrade will employ about 435 people.

“This is the beginning of the build,” Verizon spokesman Kevin Laverty said. “It will certainly be multiyear here, and it will be in the hundreds of millions we will invest here in the state.”

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or