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City leaders call on Verizon to expand FiOS service

Verizon is facing pressure from community leaders to expand its fiber optic service in Buffalo.

A new coalition made up of government officials, community activists, unions and civil rights advocates launched a campaign Monday outside Verizon offices at Franklin and Swan streets.

"Don't Bypass Buffalo: Verizon Build FiOS Now" was the rallying cry as about 20 people gathered to voice their disappointment that only tiny pockets of the city have been wired with FiOS.

For the past few years, city officials have been prodding the company to move forward with the installation of its high-speed broadband network.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he has made the pitch to executives "at the very highest level" of Verizon. He said FiOS would help improve education, expand business opportunities and create competition for Time Warner.

The service has been available to many property owners in the Town of Tonawanda, the towns and villages of Orchard Park and Hamburg, parts of Amherst and other communities.

The mayor said he is eager to begin franchise talks with Verizon -- an important step that would have to occur before the company would expand FiOS into the city. Currently, only small parts of South Buffalo and North Buffalo have the system.

Janique S. Curry, a former Buffalo Board of Education member, is heading the campaign. She said the absence of FiOS throughout most of the city -- including neighborhoods with high minority populations -- creates a digital divide.

"We want to paint that picture and make sure that Verizon becomes a responsible corporate citizen to locate [FiOS] here in the City of Buffalo, not just in the suburbs," Curry said.

Michael Hoffert, president of the Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council and a member of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, said businesses need access to state-of-the-art technology.

"The region's success actually is dependent upon a thriving city, so we can't allow our city to be bypassed by Verizon," Hoffert said.

John Bonomo, a New York City-based spokesman for Verizon, said he could not speculate on how soon large sections of Buffalo will be wired with FiOS. He said the company already has franchises with more than 180 communities across the state, and these agreements require Verizon to expand FiOS service within specified time periods.

But Bonomo was quick to point out that Verizon already offers fast Internet service via its copper wire network. He believes it's unfair to suggest that the absence of FiOS in Buffalo is hindering its economy, education system and neighborhoods.

Other speakers included Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, both Buffalo Democrats. Kennedy is co-sponsoring legislation that would require the state to issue a report that would help pinpoint communities that face a digital divide.

"It is imperative that residents and businesses throughout the state of New York have access to up-to-date broadband service," Kennedy said.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.DontBypassBuffalo.com

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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