Verizon plans upstate NY Fios expansion at $12k per passing

Verizon inked a new $18 million public-private partnership deal with Onondaga County in New York state which will see it extend its Fios footprint to more than 1,500 locations there. But simple math indicates that reaching more rural parts of the state comes with a steep price tag.

The county is set to provide $11.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the project, with Verizon contributing another nearly $7 million to bring the total spend to around $18 million.

Onondaga County is home to Syracuse, which is the fifth largest city in New York state. A Verizon representative told Fierce it expects to complete construction in the suburbs north and west of the city within one year of the contract’s execution. It will cover the areas southeast and southwest of the city within 16 months. The operator representative added it plans to follow the path of its existing copper network where practical.

Verizon SVP of Wireline Network Operations Kevin Service said the rollout will help close the digital divide in the region.

New York State’s broadband map shows nearly 99% of Onondaga County is already considered “served,” which means there are at least two internet service providers present with one of those offering service with speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream. Just over 2,100 locations in the county were marked as unserved, with nearly 500 of these concentrated on the Onondaga Nation Reservation.

According to the map, There are just 64 unserved locations in the city of Syracuse, with another 425 unserved locations situated within the Town of Onandaga to the southwest of Syracuse.

Its county-backed build will allow Verizon to run fiber to reach unserved locations and better compete with the likes of Charter’s Spectrum cable service and T-Mobile’s fixed wireless home internet. But the cost per passing is steep at approximately $12,000 if the $18 million is divided evenly.

While that figure seems high, it pales in comparison to the $200,000 per passing cost of some rural projects recently funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program. While Fiber Broadband Association chief Gary Bolton has, perhaps predictably given his role, argued there is no one too expensive to reach with fiber, the high costs per passing in rural areas raise questions about just how far federal dollars like those allocated through ARPA and the upcoming Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program will go.

In any event, Verizon is looking to cash in on as many of these funding opportunities as possible. The representative told Fierce “Verizon is actively participating with public partners to bring Fios to more Americans across our landline footprint and has created new teams to evaluate all of these opportunities and to create new partnerships.”