The wires are there, but the service is not – and local officials want that to change.
Verizon FiOS, a service that uses fiber optic lines to provide access to video and high-bandwidth Internet access, has a state license and can operate in any community, but only serves customers in Toms River and a sliver of the Brick mainland in Ocean County. A major part of Verizon’s deal to gain a statewide franchise license to operate was a commitment to run lines through every county seat, so all areas of the state would have some level of access. In the case of the barrier island, FiOS is offered in Ortley Beach and the North Beach portion – since they under the jurisdiction of Toms River, the county seat – but not Lavallette or the Seasides.
“They just ran fresh FiOS cable through town,” said Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero. “They ran it one side to the other, no stops in between, so they have the wires here, they just don’t give us the service.”
That means lines for FiOS literally run through Lavallette in order to provide service for Toms River (located on either side), but the service isn’t offered through the short number of blocks that make up the entire town.
Verizon also agreed to offer the service in the most densely-populated cities in New Jersey. But most Shore communities do not qualify, regardless of their density, because seasonal residents are not counted in the census. Brick would have qualified, Mayor John Ducey has said, except for the fact that the state counted the area of Barnegat Bay under the town’s jurisdiction as part of its overall size, in turn decreasing the density.
In the past, Verizon has rejected requests to expand service on the island, citing the seasonal nature of local communities. But that has been changing since Superstorm Sandy struck, officials say.
“They really need to take a better look at this,” said Lavallette Councilwoman Joanne Filippone. “We’re a lot different than we were prior to the storm. Some people may not live here 12 months of the year, but they still want to use their big, beautiful homes.”
In 2010, she said, it was commonly believed that the census underreported the number of year-round residents in Lavallette.
“We also have snowbirds here who, for tax reasons, are not counted, but they have houses here that are used virtually year-round,” LaCicero said.
Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz has also appealed to Verizon to run lines in town. There, FiOS service is offered on a single block – the Island Beach Way development – but nowhere else.
Vaz and LaCicero have both fielded numerous complaints about service from Altice, the new owner of the Optimum suite of cable and Internet services. Lavallette recently signed a new, exclusive franchise agreement with Optimum, but Verizon’s statewide status means they are not precluded from offering competition.
Vaz said island towns were recently informed that Optimum would no longer record and broadcast local town council meetings, adding to the list of complaints. In Seaside Heights, the council is in the midst of setting up a system where meetings will be broadcast live on the Internet instead.
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment. LaCicero said the borough will soon be putting up a form letter on its website in an effort to make it known that residents are requesting the service.
The island is currently served by two cable companies. From Brick Township north, Comcast provides service; from the Toms River border to the southern end of the island, Optimum provides service.