Last Word on FiOS TV

Over the past few issues of the newsletter, I’ve discussed the pluses and minuses of Verizon’s FiOS TV service. I’ve had Verizon’s FiOS Internet service since January of 2006, but I recently decided to skip Verizon’s FiOS TV digital entertainment package. I decided to upgrade my existing Comcast digital cable TV service to support my flat-panel HDTV. To get caught up, check these articles:

Last time, I offered something of an apology for my earlier surmise that there might be some impingement of broadband Internet throughput because Verizon also uses that pipe to send video-on-demand programming, such as movies and shows. In my household, I have five televisions and set-top boxes connecting them to digital programming. My kids are addicted to on-demand children’s programming, and my oldest loves to order free on-demand movies. Personally, I’m more into Netflix. But there’s a lot of on-demand programming going on in the Finnie household. So I got to thinking: Would multiple on-demand TV programming coming down the pipe diminish the bandwidth available to my Internet connection?

It turns out that my concern actually does have some merit, although only in the worst-case scenarios.

Since the last issue, I was contacted by Frank Boersma, director, set-top box and in-home network engineering at Verizon. He explained the way FiOS TV and FiOS Internet work together in a telephone interview. We followed up the interview with this question and answer in email:

Scot: “My understanding is that the video on demand (VOD) can use the full bandwidth available to my connection while the Internet connection is capped to whatever service level you ordered. In my area, for example, the most you can get is 30Mbps, and my Internet broadband service is capped at 15Mbps. But what if I had ordered the 30Mbps Internet service level? Wouldn’t my Internet connection be reduced whenever VOD was playing?

Frank Boersma: “If your FiOS Internet speed was provisioned at 30Mbps, and that matched the limitation for your area, you could see an impact to your Internet speeds using VOD. That would only occur if you were watching VOD while attempting to access a website which could reach speeds of 30Mbps download. Each VOD session takes roughly 4Mbps of bandwidth from your permanent virtual circuit (PVC), so a single VOD session would leave 26Mbps available for Internet downloads. It’s more likely you could see an impact to your data speeds if you had multiple VOD sessions going at the same time (e.g. 4 VOD sessions simultaneously, which would use about 16Mbps). FiOS TV customers are limited to a theoretical maximum of seven VOD sessions (28Mbps), which in your example would leave only 2Mbps for Internet traffic.”

So it appears that if you use a lot of on-demand programming simultaneously (and my family does sometimes) there could be some fallout.

There’s another piece to the puzzle worth noting. In some areas, FiOS is capped at 30Mbps while in others it’s capped at 50Mbps. Last I checked, my home is still in a 30Mbps area. If you have 20Mbps FiOS Internet and you’re in a 50Mbps area, there’s no way your Internet connection could be affected by heavy simultaneous usage of video on demand. In my case, I’ve been trying for some time to get Verizon to upgrade my FiOS Internet service to 20Mbps. I was provisioned at 15Mbps and, due to a problem with my account, they haven’t been able to raise me to 20Mbps.

That problem with my account, which I’ve detailed in the past, amounts to this: For whatever reason, as a very early FiOS customer Verizon’s account system wound up listing me as a DSL customer, not a FiOS customer. I’m being charged the introductory FiOS charge (about $37 a month) for my 15Mbps service, which is a good deal less than the $49.99 Verizon now charges (with a subsequent rate hike) for its 20Mbps service. I have tried about a dozen times since my early 2006 FiOS Internet installation to get this fixed. So far, Verizon has been unable to resolve it.

So, anyway, if I ever get to 20Mbps FiOS Internet in my 30Mbps-capped area, that would leave only enough bandwidth to have two simultaneous video-on-demand programs playing. With three or more programs playing, my Internet connection would be impinged on. So, my situation is close to being the worst-case scenario. I think I made the right choice in sticking with Comcast for digital television. But your usage and your provisioning from Verizon could be very different.

If you’re considering Verizon TV, I think you should make sure to ask your Verizon rep what FiOS is capped at in your town.

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