Thursday, June 12, 2008

Here Comes Everybody

According to this article from OneTRAK, Verizon has begun construction (overbuilding) that will enable the company to introduce its FiOS service into two Texas cities (Frisco and Allen) already served by AT&T's U-Verse service. This announcement could also have implications for the five other states (Florida, California, Indiana, Washington and Oregon) that Verizon shares with either AT&T or Qwest.

Historically, overbuilding phone systems simply wasn't done; each city had one and only one telephone franchise. However, now that local franchising is no longer an issue, the decision about whether or not to overbuild is driven by economic and technical issues. It's a lot less expensive to overbuild when you already have a telephone network built in an adjoining city, and that's what's enabling Verizon's encroachment into AT&T territory in Texas. (Why is Verizon in these states, you ask? The company was formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, and it's some of the old GTE systems that are in play for expansion.)

By and large, AT&T has three video competitors in every market: The incumbent cable operator (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, etc.), DirecTV and Dish/Echostar. The last thing they've expected is head-to-head competition with Verizon, but they're going to get it, and in their home state (Texas). Verizon apparently believes that in FiOS, it will have a superior product to U-Verse for the foreseeable future, thus justifying the capital investment necessary to compete on AT&Ts turf.

In the past, I've talked about how Verizon's big bet on fiber to the home is turning out be much more "future-proof" than AT&T's smaller bet on fiber to the node. That's great if you live in a Verizon territory, but meaningless if you're an AT&T customer...until now. Here's an example: I live in Campbell, California, just north of Los Gatos, a Verizon city. FiOS isn't in Los Gatos yet, but once it is, one could easily envision Verizon expanding from Los Gatos to Campbell and San Jose, and from there throughout the southern part of Silicon Valley. Other Verizon outposts in Northern California could also expand, until the entire San Francisco Bay Area, or at least the most profitable parts, are covered.

This possibility has to scare AT&T silly, since the company needs those same highly profitable customers in order to pay back its capital expenditure on U-Verse. Verizon's first moves in Texas likely presage a battle that will take years to play out, but it's entirely conceivable that Verizon could end up as the sole national wireline (or "fiberline") carrier in the U.S.
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