Verizon Fios Could Leave You In The Dark When The Power Goes Out

From Newsday:

Consumers who switch to Verizon’s new FiOS TV or Internet services will find a change to their existing Verizon phone service: Their copper-wire phone line will be replaced with a fiber-optic line.

Verizon touts that the fiber-optic lines can carry more information and provide a better signal.

But some consumers see a downside: They will lose phone service during an extended power outage. That doesn’t happen on phone service provided via copper wire.

It’s worth mentioning because while most people understand that with an internet-based service like Vonage you’ll lose phone service when the power goes out, customers might assume Verizon’s FiOS service is no different from the copper-wire variety. Fiber-optic cable is made of glass, and doesn’t conduct electricity, and therefore can’t be powered remotely. Verizon provides a battery back-up to its FiOS customers, (which needs to be replaced periodically) that stores enough power for 4 hours of talk time. In the event of an extended power outage, however, you’re out of luck. —MEGHANN MARCO

CONSUMER WATCH: Fine print in Verizon switch-over [Newsday]

Photo: Josh Bancroft

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  1. Falconfire says:

    I think people are thinking 4 hours is a short amount of time. If rationed and used for emergency purposes (like the backup is provided for) 4 hours of talk time could equal a week or so of standby time.

    Still sucks compared to copper, especially when we haven’t even come close to fixing the problems in our nations electrical grid that would prevent a North Eastern size problems from happening again, but between that and cell phones you should have plenty of ability to contact emergency services in case you have to.

    And hey if the power is out for longer than a week, most likely your too busy fighting off the zombies trying to eat you to care about chatting!

  2. - says:

    Cellphones should still work right? Unless the cell tower is also out of power, but I haven’t been without power for some time to test that.

    I’d happily give up the copper line in my house for FiOS but im on the west coast!

    Darn

  3. kcskater says:

    If anyone signed up for DSL through their local telecom, it’s most likely that they were already switched over to this system, even with copper lines running to the house. When DSL was put in my in-law’s house, the battery was capable of providing more backup time than would have been required in the north east blackout a couple of years ago.

  4. homerjay says:

    I don’t care, I WANT IT! C’mon Verizon! Get your ass in gear! Every town around me has it and I’m stuck with 720k DSL. GIMME GIMME GIMME!

  5. Brian Gee says:

    I totally want it.

    The increased bandwidth should more than make up for any time lost during power outtages. Just run a couple of extra VOIP lines during the uptime. ;)

  6. homerjay says:

    Exactly, I would SO be able to make all the calls I need with this BEFORE the power goes out. :) Not like with crappy DSL- doesn’t even have a cool name….

  7. Skeptic says:

    Hmm…this seems like a serious downgrade to 911 service. Cellphones are still 2nd best for being automatically routed to your local emergency services.

    It doesn’t seem like they should remove the twisted pair until they have a much more robust backup system in place for regular phone service. The whole point of having a “regular” phone is for the reliability and the fact that it is powered by the phone company’s central office. BS like swapping out the twisted pair will only hasten the demise of traditional phone companies as they remove the service differentiation from VOIP.

  8. FLConsumer says:

    It should also be noted that during the power failure, your CATV & internet signals coming from the FIOS box also cease to function. I’m not sure where Verizon is getting 4 hours of talk time from — the battery barely lasts for 4 hrs if you’re NOT on the phone.

    From my 2004/2005 hurricane experiences:
    Cable cos have NO backup capability whatsoever. Sure, they’ll say they do, and they do have backup power at the headend, but their entire distribution system depends upon the power lines in the local area. Your neighborhood’s distribution amplifier receives power from the same power poles you get your power from and it’s probably just down the street from you.

    Phone cos generally have an idea of what’s needed, but they don’t always get it right. In the case of Sprint (now Embarq), they’ve bought up so many older phone cos that they have quite a mess, often an undocumented mess, in their hands. After Hurricane Wilma, Sprint had generators at all of the places they thought were critical… unfortunately there were a few extra concentrators and switching stations they forgot about, which ended up downing substantial portions of the phone system. It’d be 2 weeks before phone service was restored to many areas.

    Cell cos did the best jobs and quickly deployed COWs (Cellular On Wheels temporary cell towers) to replace damaged towers and most sites had generators in-place, but they were still dependent upon the landline system in many cases. Also, when the landline system is down, the amount of traffic placed on cell system usually overwhems it, but with some patience (or priority code), you might be able to get through. Because of the landline screwups after Wilma, you actually stood a better chance calling long distance rather than local.

    If you manage to have a working internet connection, VoIP rules in these situations. My Level3 fibers stayed lit the whole time and I run 95% VoIP, so I was up & running. There were a few reports of cable/phone being down, but cable internet/dsl was still up. The reverse was also seen.

  9. Kos says:

    I can’t wait for FIOS to hit NYC. I’m suck of TWC taking monopoly rents from me. Bring on the duopoly!

    Separately, I have a home line from Verizon for $20 strictly for 800 numbers (hello extended customer service wait times) and god forbid there is another blackout (hello worried mother). 4 hours with rationing should be fine for most of us. All you need the landline for is to tell everyone that you’re fine since the cell lines will be all congested. Anyone ever try take a call on a cellphone during the new year?

    Kos

  10. FLConsumer says:

    The reason Verizon yanks the copper is twofold: 1)To keep you as their customer for life. There are rules governing competitive access to the copper, but none for fiber. Once Verizon removes your copper, there’s no going back. 2) Cost savings to Verizon. Let’s be honest, VoIP is cheap because costs to run it are cheap. No more individual circuits, no more fragile copper. Once Verizon gets enough people over to FIOS, they’ll just let the copper lines rot and the CLECs will be stuck with the old unreliable copper, their reputation will go down and Verizon thinks they’ll win everyone.

  11. MsCongeniality says:

    My parents have had FiOS internet service for a few years now and have never experienced a loss of phone service during power outages. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but unless you’re spending some serious time on the phone it’s probably not that likely.

    I recently got FiOS internet and television service myself and, while I don’t have a landline, this would not have stopped me for a second when placing my order. I absolutely love my FiOS service and still think fondly of the day I told my cable company to go to hell.

  12. geel says:

    you could proably modify the wires leading from the backup batter to a even bigger battery or other power source …..

  13. FLConsumer says:

    Geek: that does work…but it only works for as long as the fiber concentrator cabinets out by the street have power. They do have batteries (seems to last about 6 hrs from my experiences), but once those are dead, you’re still SOL.

  14. Hey! You guys stole this photo, which belongs to me:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshb/87167480/

    You posted it without attribution (thus violating the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license it’s posted under). You guys now officially owe me one meeelion dollars. I take PayPal. :-) Or just add some attribution, to be compliant.

  15. kingofmars says:

    @geek and FLConsumer
    Yes, as long as you can get some sort of power to fios network box you’re good to go in a power outage. The battery back up is just for emergency services, and calling the power company to let them know you’re power is out. Trust me, call the power company from a land line, it helps them troubleshot the outage by using your caller id.

    Also, there is no need to worry about the fiber concentrator cabinets losing power, since they don’t have any power anyway. Fios light is fed straight from the central office, with no repeaters in between the CO and the customer. At least that’s the way it is in MD, and it should be the same everywhere. Saves Verizon a bunch of money.

    Finally even if the fiber hubs did require power, there would be a battery backup. And if it was an extended outage the phone company (or at least verizon) would send out techs in trucks with generators to keep the system going. They do this with the precursor of FIOS, lightspan. Lightspan was fiber fed to a neighborhood, and then copper to the house. This was also called fiber to the curb(as opposed to prem). I think Comcast uses this system, except that their co-ax cable can handle more data than copper.

    And yes I do work for verizon, and I do maintain the fios equipment in a central office. Keep up the good work consumerist.

  16. kingofmars says:

    Something I forgot to mention, the battery is a standard motorcycle battery.

  17. MoCo says:

    The FIOS power unit is made by APC and can be fed using an external 12V source and to get weeks of backup power. Here is the official method. (Those who are technically inclined can build an equivalent supply for lower cost.)

    http://sturgeon.apcc.com/techref.nsf/partnum/990-1660/$FIL

    More info:
    http://www.apc.com/prod_docs/results.cfm?class=user&produc

    http://sturgeon.apcc.com/techref.nsf/partnum/990-2198B/$FI

  18. MoCo says:

    For those who absolutely cannot be without phone service, this type of setup works nicely:

    http://www.montagar.com/~PATJ/batteries.jpg

  19. homerjay says:

    I was just looking at the pictures at your link, Josh. I don’t see where the fiber component connects into this. I see a few copper wires here and there but no fiber.

  20. @homerjay – this is just the power supply. The ONT (optical network terminal) is a separate box, in my case, mounted outside on the other side of that wall. That’s where the fiber comes in, and the CAT5 comes out.

    See the whole gallery of Fios installation photos that I shot starting here:

    http://www.tinyscreenfuls.com/2006/01/photos-of-verizon-fi

  21. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Josh..very nice documentation of the FiOS installation; I saw this a month or two ago. Doesn’t the ONT have terminals for external backup DC power in? In which case, I’d get myself a nice deep-cycle lead acid battery or two and use that for a backup supply. I’m sure the battery in the UPS unit is probably your typical 5 or 7 Ah gel-cel.

    Chances are the included UPS would cover most short outages, but if you had a major storm or disaster that caused an extended outage, you’d be out of luck.

    We have the same issue at work with our VoIP system. If the voice/data multiplexer loses power, we’re SOL.

  22. When was the last time you saw a land-line based phone that did not require a DC power supply?

    Eliminate all cordless phones, phones with caller ID or built in answering machine and there is nary a phone in around which doesn’t require external power.

    Only if you want to spin a blistered finger around an ancient rotary phone will you be OK in a power outage.

    Who cares?

  23. TVarmy says:

    Spider Tactics: You can get a touchtone phone that runs off of nothing but power from the line for $10 or so at Radio Shack or wherever. Go ahead and get one if you use a landline. It’ll save you when you least expect it.

    I get my cable company doing this for their phone service, because it’s their best option. But this is just low of Verison. They own the phone line already, so why not let their customers use it? If they don’t want to deal with the expense, offer it as an optional package for an extra $5 in case of emergencies. That way, those who are worried about power outages are protected, and Verison still makes a buck.

  24. Pasketti says:

    Even if the fiber box is still running, if your home router is plugged into the wall, you’ll still lose your net connection when the power goes out.

    We don’t have fiber, but I got a small UPS and hooked it up to the DSL modem and the router. Works great, and those annoying power blips don’t kick us off anymore.

    Got one for the Tivo, too.

  25. Thanks for the photo credit, Ben! :-)

  26. r81984 says:

    I do not see the point of this article. From the title its gives off a theme of bashing verizon.

    How can you blame verizon for customer stupidity. Anyone who thinks power can be ran over fiber has some issues.

    Keep up the good work Verizon.

  27. splicermike says:

    Kingofmars is correct,

    Simply put VZ places feeder fibers from the central office to your neighborhood which feed the signal to the hub. Each hub has a dedicated ribbon of 12 feeder fibers, Each feeder fiber is split to the 32 customers by sending the light through a prism and a couple mirrors (called a splitter).

    The 32 outputs are sent to 32 houses. There is no power anywhere along the run, no repeaters. Typically each hub feeds 216 or 432 customers. If we are further than 6 miles from the central office we use 1 feeder fiber per 16 homes which creates less dB loss at the end user. Its pretty neat really, no electronics to go bad or power to bother with.

  28. talkgiver says:

    Verizon Fios sales personnel were fast to come to our condo and sign us up but NEVER mentioned that the phone uses a battery back-up. The battery has to be replaced every 12 to 18 months at a cost of $56.00 including tax and shipping. Most of the residents are senior “Senior’s”. Since the battery box was installed above the closet doorway in our units and we can not climb ladders to install the battery. Verizon charges an additional $74.00 to have it installed. Total cost $130.
    The worst part of this is the fact that I was primarily responsible in talking the condo board in going to Fios…Boy, am I mud in this building.