A shift in Verizon's fiber-optic strategy will mean nearly all southern New Jersey communities will wait longer for its FiOS service that offers television, broadband Internet and phone, and competes with Comcast cable.
Verizon spokesman Rich Young said Friday that the company will finish building its fiber-optic network in the 70 New Jersey towns that were part of its statewide franchise commitment, but then pause from further expansion while it focuses on increasing market share in those towns.
Of the 70 towns, 60 are densely populated areas mainly upstate, while 10 are county seats. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, only the county seats of Mays Landing and Cape May Court House will get FiOS service under the franchise agreement. In Ocean County, Verizon is not extending its FiOS network to any municipality south of Toms River.
In Cumberland County, the county seat of Bridgeton is among the 70 towns that will get FiOS, and the service is also being extended to at least parts of Vineland, Deerfield, Hopewell Township, Shiloh and Upper Deerfield.
"Right now, our plan is to build out the areas we've pledged to build out and we'll see what happens in the future," Young said. "If we can increase the penetration rate of the service (where it's offered), we will look to expand beyond that footprint."
He said Verizon offers FiOS in 350 New Jersey communities and throughout its mainly East Coast system has enrolled 15.4 million homes and businesses - 28 percent of potential Internet users and 25 percent of television users.
While all of New Jersey is already franchised to Verizon for FiOS service, about a third of its multistate telephone service area is not, including Baltimore and Boston. Spokeswoman Heather Wilner said the company is not working to secure major new franchises.
Verizon does not appear to have ruled out further FiOS expansion, but does not have any plans, either. The economics apparently are not attractive enough: TV service carries fairly low margins compared with Verizon's phone business, said analyst Craig Moffett at Sanford Bernstein.
Moffett believes the end of FiOS expansion means that cable companies will lose fewer subscribers, starting next year.
The recruitment of new FiOS TV subscribers slowed last year. In the fourth quarter, it added 153,000 subscribers, little more than half of the number it added in the same period the year before.
At the end of last year, Verizon had 2.86 million FiOS TV subscribers and 3.43 million FiOS Internet subscribers (most households take both).
Verizon is the only major U.S. phone company to draw fiber all the way to homes and the only one to offer broadband speeds approaching those available in Japan and South Korea. The halt to further expansion comes as the Federal Communications Commission has sent Congress the country's first "national broadband plan," aimed at making Internet access faster, more affordable and more widely available.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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