About one year ago the Town of North Hempstead approved a franchise agreement with Verizon to provide FIOS (fiber-based) television services, followed shortly thereafter by the villages of Sands Point and Flower Hill. Residents of Port Washington North, Manorhaven and Baxter Estates are not yet able to receive these services, as these villages are still in negotiation with Verizon on a contract agreement. A little over a month ago the village of Manorhaven conducted a public hearing, during which almost all of the residents who testified urged the village to move swiftly to come to an agreement, as they were anxious to have the ability to choose cable TV providers. Yvonne Whitcomb, Baxter Estates village clerk, said that it is likely that the village will hold a public hearing sometime in April or May.
The village of Port Washington North recently held a public hearing on the subject; here the residents who testified were a little more divided than those in Manorhaven. For example, Steve Kaplan urged the board to move ahead quickly. He said, "You are not selling an agreement; you are just giving us an opportunity to make a choice." Others expressed similar sentiments, while still others agreed in essence with Peri Zausner, who said, "I think the board is being reasonable in its actions. I would rather have a good agreement than rush into this."
Representatives from both Verizon and Cablevision spoke at the hearing. Naturally, Verizon was urging quick resolution, so that consumers will have a choice. Cablevision outside attorney Peter Bee from the firm of Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan said that Cablevision was not there to block the agreement. He said, "We are confident that we will beat Verizon in the marketplace." He went on to comment on and to challenge specific clauses in the draft agreement. Both Verizon and Cablevision, whose contract expires shortly, debated in the context of the New York State Public Service Commission's requirement for a "fair playing field."
Mayor Robert Weitzner and some board members, as well some residents asked about how the proposed agreement compares with the one Verizon negotiated with the Town of North Hempstead and/or with other villages. The Verizon representative did not answer directly, but said that the company negotiates a separate agreement with each municipality. Mayor Robert Weitzner commented that, so far, Verizon has about 103 different agreements on Long Island with different municipalities. In a follow-up interview, trustee Steven Cohen, head of the village's infrastructure committee, said, "I would think that Verizon would have an evolutionary process whereby they learn from each subsequent agreement, rather than starting all over in each municipality with the same 'boilerplate' agreement. By now they should have a pretty good sense of what works and what doesn't." One resident suggested that the villages of Port Washington North and Manorhaven consider combining resources to negotiate an agreement; another wondered why Verizon is heavily advertising in both villages, in spite of the fact that the service is not yet available there.
Both Weitzner and Cohen said that the board is in favor of competition, and hope to complete the process as quickly as possible. Weitzner pointed out that the agreement being negotiated is for 10 years, commenting, "The board is here to be sure that the residents get a document that protects them. I think that is more important than getting the service right away." Cohen said, "The next move is Verizon's. The ball is in their court." At the public meeting and in our interview, Cohen expressed frustration at Verizon's responsiveness and the slowness of their turnaround to date. He said, "In November we met and expected an agreement before the end of the year. Now it is March and they are just getting back to us." The board will address this issue again at their April 28 annual meeting.
Also on the agenda was a status report from LIPA on their initiative to improve the reliability of electric service on the peninsula, spearheaded by the Village of Port North.
Michael Hervey, LIPA's vice president of operations, addressed the board and the public. He reported improvements in the service and presented plans for continued enhancements. He said that the number of interruptions has been reduced from an average of 2.6 a year to 1.9. In response to Port News's question after the meeting, he explained that an "interruption" is defined as an outage of five minutes or more. Port News asked about momentary outages-the ones that bring our computer systems down or require us to redo settings on electronic devices. Hervey said that they average about 6 a year.
The major effort has been and will continue to be the cutting of trees. In response to one resident's question, Hervey said that LIPA does not "top" trees-it removes dead or dying trees and large branches that are interfering with the wires. "We don't go after healthy trees," he said. Hervey said that, as a longer-range solution, some of the high-voltage feeders will be buried. He said, "LIPA is prepared to invest about $2 million in this effort." He predicted that this work will most likely be done in the first or second quarter of next year. In response to another question, he did say that LIPA will be looking at upgrading their outdated equipment. "That is the next step in the process," he said.
One resident asked why the LIPA representative who answered the phone when he called during a recent outage told him that his service had been restored when, in fact, it had not. Hervey admitted that the company has no automated way to know when service has been restored to individual homes. He said, "We are addressing that problem. We are looking at developing an automated process to call you back and confirm that your power is back."
Cohen told the Port News that he is generally satisfied with the progress that has been made so far. "We have come a long way," he said. He added that he and the rest of the board will be monitoring LIPA's progress and will continue to keep the public informed.