Verizon’s FiOS does TV, phone and broadband well

NEW YORK — Verizon’s new cable television and high speed Internet service is fantastic.

Verizon Communications Inc., for those keeping score, is a telephone company that’s been branching out into other things, such as cable TV. Cable companies, meanwhile, are broadening their offerings to include high-speed Internet and telephone service.

Verizon, is spending $23 billion to make fiber-optic connections which it calls FiOS available to 18 million homes by 2010. Service is already available in parts of Snohomish County MIll Creek, Bothell and some of Everett. By bypassing the old copper phone lines, the company has much more bandwidth available than anyone else. (AT&T Inc. also is upgrading its service with fiber, though the cables do not extend all the way to each home.)

While it’s been available where I live for a while, it wasn’t until I moved within the Philadelphia suburbs that the company made me a pitch that was too good to refuse: All my telecom services landline, cell phone, cable and Internet on one bill.

The package is about $200, $10 a month more than it used to cost me. But I figured that $10 was worth it for faster Internet speeds of up to 5 million megabits per second downstream (and 2 Mbps upstream) and 150 free cable channels dozens more than I was getting. Verizon threw in a voice mail box, caller identification service and unlimited calling with no extra charge.

Though my 26-inch Samsung set couldn’t take advantage of the service’s high-definition offerings, the standard-definition picture quality was at least as good as my previous service.

Verizon’s remote and set-top box provided work amazingly well. All the usual channels appear to be there, plus some. On the sports front, I’ve gained several new versions of ESPN.

We’ve also benefited from channel inflation in home improvement and cooking networks, and gained a slew of new nature, science and history-related channels, many of which I’d never heard of. One, DIY, repeats some of our favorite shows from other networks, letting us catch programs we used to miss. We’ve also gained children’s channels such as Noggin.

On the Internet side the service has been exemplary. Whereas our old DSL modem had to be reset frequently, I’ve only had to reset our FiOS modem once. It may be a tad slower than a cable connection, but unless you’re downloading gobs of big files, who’s the wiser? It’s more than fast enough for Webkinz and the occasional cartoon or game.

The landline works and sounds just fine, though it’s not your grandfather’s phone service power isn’t supplied over the network. Verizon does provide an eight-hour backup battery to help you through blackouts (we’ve fortunately not experienced any yet).

There was no change to our cell phone service, which we’ve had through Verizon Wireless for several years now (for the record, the coverage in Bucks County, Pa., is better than Cingular, our previous provider).

One complaint is the lack of documentation. I’m not normally a big manual reader, but a simple channel guide would have been nice (I’ve since found one online). And to use the voice mail service that came with the FiOS phone connection, I had to call an operator, then an 800 number, then suffer through several transfers before finding someone who could give me basic instructions (such as which number to dial to retrieve voice mail messages, for instance).

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