What Do You Mean America had National and State Fiber Optic Plans in 1993? We Were Punked.

Bruce Kushnick
14 min readMar 23, 2022

Did you know that the first wireless bait-and-switch for fiber to the home was 1995?

“Institutional memory” requires that someone — some government agency, or some academic center, or some political party or… anyone… actually keeps the knowledge of the past intact so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

But it is more than just that. What happens if the corporations are able to actually rewrite the history of events, editing or erasing basic facts to the point where the pundits, politicians, the government, reporters, and especially the ‘common wisdom’ that is always quoted — have all been punked?

In a previous post we examined how there is a plan to give out hundreds of billions of dollars, and a chunk will go to a very small group of holding companies — AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies), that have left most of America’s state-based telecommunications public utilities copper infrastructure to deteriorate.

And here we present excerpts from the FCC’s exceptionally obscure Video Competition reports, that were first published beginning in 1993 . Each report describes what commitments were made by the holding companies now known as AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink for their proposed fiber optic networks then known as ‘Video Dialtone’ (VDT), and what happened to these commitments. There was also an attempted bait-and-switch with wireless infrastructure and service, claiming it could replace landline fiber optics. Of course, it can’t. Ironically, almost all fixed or mobile wireless service requires fiber optic wires to connect cell towers and switching centers to work. There is no wireless without wireline! The much-heralded 5G is a network based on numerous small antennas connected by a host of fiber optic wires.

Don’t Take Our Word for It.

The “FCC REPORT”, identifies the excerpts from these reports, which were published almost 30 years ago; they supply the number of lines for cities and states. And yet, what is now AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink — never showed up and virtually none of it was built.

AT&T California, (then known as PacBell) — Spent $16 billion starting in 1993 in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Orange County — 1 million homes by 1997?

FCC REPORT: “PacBell’s August 1995 authorization for four Video Dialtone (VDT) systems in California, which will pass 490,000 homes in San Francisco; 360,000 homes in Los Angeles; 259,000 homes in San Diego; and 210,000 homes in Orange County, California. PacBell’s applications, originally filed in December 1993, proposed an advanced, wire-based video and telephone network that would be constructed sometime in 1996 at an expense of approximately $16 billion. It appears that PacBell currently plans to pass only 500,000 homes with this advanced network in 1996, increasing to one million homes in 1997.”

And here is a quote of a wireless bait-and-switch that was attempted by PacBell.

FCC REPORT: “These reports suggest, however, that PacBell is accelerating construction of the VDT network in the San Francisco Bay Area, scaling back its VDT deployment plans in its other authorized areas, and deploying wireless facilities in those areas in the near term while building out the VDT systems.”

Was the $16 billion ever spent? Were there 1 million homes connected to fiber optic wires in 1997 in California, especially ½ million in San Francisco? Of course not.

You’ve heard of “Video Dialtone” fiber optic services, right? Of course not.

Starting in 1994, (see the chart at the end of this post), essentially, all of the companies filed proposals to use the telephone network to offer video and cable services.

The opening chart shows that how the companies were to install almost 6 million fiber optic lines, which were ditched after only a year or two. The chart is only a partial list of the almost 10 million households listed in the companies’ applications; we include a more complete collection at the end of this article. These did not include or mention all of the additional fiber deployments they announced at the time.

The significance of video dialtone, then, isn’t just that the holding companies now known as AT&T, Verizon et al. planned to roll out fiber optic services 3 decades ago — and didn’t do it. What is still a mystery to most is that these proposals were a quid pro quo to legislative and regulatory concessions the companies sought, including, deregulation, rate increases, and corporate tax breaks. The states allowed them to reap billions in excess profits in order to pay for fiber optic networks as an upgrade of the existing copper-based state telecommunications public utility. The governmental authorities never held the companies accountable for their failure to deliver on their promises. The states stood by while the companies kept the money or diverted it to their wireless business.

This institutional amnesia has allowed history to keep repeating itself multiple times in every state over the last 30 years.

Critically Important

  • Wireless has been a bait and switch for high-speed fiber lines for three decades. Early on the companies began laying the groundwork for the notion that wireless is an adequate substitute for landline fiber base services.
  • This is the beginning of the Digital Divide. This failure to deliver on those commitments is now called the Digital Divide. Wireless networks deliver coverage that is spotty and are in many places non-existent. Internet users also have to pay more for wireless broadband. Wireline networks were built out in urban and suburban towns and cities, but their coverage was based on redlining determined by income.
  • No More Government Subsidies. These companies should not get a single dollar of future county, state or federal government subsidies. They do not want to build fiber to the home or office. They are working hard to sell government and the public on an all- wireless future.

Let’s Keep Going

AT&T: Ameritech: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

FCC REPORT: “The remaining five applications for permanent commercial VDT authority were granted to Ameritech in January 1995 for five systems that proposed to pass 232,000 homes in Detroit, Michigan; 501,000 homes in Chicago, Illinois; 115,000 homes in Indianapolis, Indiana; 262,000 in homes in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; and 146,000 homes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.”

FACT: After 30 years, AT&T, the holding company, and the combined Bell state telecom utilities it reconsolidated through acquisitions and mergers, now controls service areas in 21 states, but has only 6 million fiber optic lines in service.

The New Tech Shiny Bauble: AT&T wants to receive billions in the current down-pouring of state and federal government subsidies. That’s why AT&T has just claimed it will now roll out fiber optic networks so that “75% of the footprint will eventually be built with fiber and 5G by 2025.” This is bad math. Based on the current ‘increased’ buildout rate, it will take about 10–15 years. (That’s why the quote includes ‘5G’ coverage.) History predicts that AT&T will break this promise and get away with it. Once again it trumpets bogus claims that it will deliver a fiber optic future, even though it didn’t show up in the past. From San Francisco to the ½ million lines of fiber it claimed it would be deploying in Chicago (and filed with the FCC to build) AT&T contrives its hollow press releases and marketing campaigns only for its own financial benefit.

Verizon’s Fiber Optic Failures

GTE, (which had copper-based state telecommunications public utilities spread all over America) merged with Bell Atlantic (who had merged with NYNEX) to become Verizon, and they did virtually do the same thing as AT&T — promise anything then deliver virtually nothing.

Verizon GTE’s California, Virginia, Florida and Texas, Hawaii

FCC REPORT: “GTE’s May 1995 authorization for four VDT systems that will pass 476,000 homes in Pinellas and Pasco, Florida; 334,000 in Honolulu, Hawaii; 122,000 in Ventura, California; and 109,000 in Manassas, Virginia. Reportedly, GTE is aggressively moving ahead with its VDT plans. By the end of 1996, GTE reportedly plans to pass a total of 500,000 homes in three markets: Ventura, California; Pasco and Pinellas counties, Florida; and Honolulu, Hawaii. By 1997, GTE reportedly plans to enter the Manassas, Virginia market, increasing its total homes passed to 900,000 homes in all four markets. GTE states that its goal is to pass seven million homes with VDT in 66 top markets within the next ten years.”

NOTE: Former US Attorney General William Barr was GTE’s lead attorney starting in 1994 through the merger and creation of Verizon.

Verizon: NYNEX Massachusetts & Rhode Island also had permanent fiber deployments that never showed.

FCC REPORT: “NYNEX’s March 1995 authorization for two VDT systems, one in Rhode Island that will pass 63,000 homes and one in eastern Massachusetts that will pass 334,000 homes. NYNEX’s applications, filed in July of 1994, proposed completion of construction in 2010. According to some trade press accounts, NYNEX is proceeding on target with a “cautiously aggressive” strategy with its VDT systems in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Earlier reports suggested, however, that while still pursuing VDT entry, NYNEX had scaled back its deployment plans and may utilize wireless cable in the near term to reach subscribers while constructing its VDT systems. “

None of this was done during this time-frame and you will notice that NYNEX started claiming it would use fixed wireless instead.

Verizon DC, and Surrounding Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware

FCC REPORT: “On May 24, 1995, Bell Atlantic withdrew two applications for permanent commercial VDT systems that proposed to pass 1.2 million homes in the D.C. metro and 2 million homes in the mid-Atlantic area. Bell Atlantic announced that it was considering new technologies and would submit amended applications at a later date, after further evaluating the technologies. Press reports suggest that in the D.C. and mid-Atlantic regions, Bell Atlantic plans to use wireless technology pending further development of switched digital video (“SDV”) architecture. Notwithstanding its withdrawal of two significant VDT proposals, Bell Atlantic is going forward with VDT in other areas, including the construction of a permanent commercial VDT operation in Dover.”

Verizon, Pennsylvania, New York and Boston Massachusetts were all punked.

According to the Second Video Competition Report:

FCC REPORT: “In 1996, Bell Atlantic announced plans to upgrade its infrastructure to a switched broadband network in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania, with eventual service to over 12 million homes and small businesses across the mid-Atlantic region over the next three years. NYNEX also recently announced plans for large-scale deployment of switched fiber networks in the Boston and New York areas, with plans to be able eventually to provide video to up to five million subscribers.”

VERIZON TOTAL WAS 24 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS — BY 2010.

  • Verizon (Bell Atlantic) was to have 12 million homes.
  • NYNEX was to have 5 million homes in NYC and Boston.
  • GTE claimed that it would have 7 million homes.
  • Rhode Island, Verizon was to have 63000 VDT lines.

Thus, by 1996, the Bell companies that would make up Verizon had claimed that twenty-four million lines of fiber would be installed throughout all of its territories, and yet barely more than one-half should have been installed by 2000.

Bell Atlantic never built these networks nor did NYNEX. GTE, which was independent in this 1995–1996 timeframe, had started buildouts but sold off most of them off (or closed them) before the merger. In fact, these VDT buildout announcements were tied to pushing through the merger of these two Baby Bell Holding Companies — even though they had, at one time. claimed they would compete as Bell Atlantic, New Jersey, which touches NYNEX NY.

CenturyLink (Lumen)

CenturyLink had Merged with what was Originally US West

US West Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska, were all punked.

FCC REPORT: “On May 31, 1995, U S West requested suspension of further Commission consideration of the five applications it filed in January and March 1994, which proposed permanent commercial VDT service to 1.1 million homes, including 90,000 homes in Boise, Idaho; 357,000 homes in Denver, Colorado; 357,000 homes in Minneapolis, Minnesota; 162,000 homes in Portland, Oregon; and 160,000 homes in Salt Lake City, Utah. U S West stated that it wanted time to review results of its Omaha, Nebraska market trial and to study new technologies.”

Was this a conspiracy to commit fraud?

How could all of these Holding Companies, controlling multiple states and cities, as well as the state telecommunications public utilities, not show up and deliver their promised fiber optic services?

What is about to go down in America is — AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink, with the cable companies, want all of the government subsidies for themselves; they want to block all competition and once they get the funding, they’ll do exactly what they did in the past — Fiber-to-the-Press Release, (as it is referred to by telecom expert Karl Bode.) The announcements they are making have no serious enforcement provisions and it is all just to get the federal and state government subsidies. We are being punked yet again…

CRASH AND BURN: SBC Took a Hatchet to the Plans once it Merged with Pacific Bell

The 1997 Video Competition Report states:

FCC REPORT: “In contrast, Pacific Bell Video Services, which, before its merger with SBC in 1997, had obtained cable franchises for San Jose, and the surrounding Santa Clara County in California, is now in the process of terminating these franchises. SBC is reportedly looking for a buyer for the incomplete system that Pacific Bell Video Services was constructing to serve these franchises. SBC performed an 18-month cable trial in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, which ended on July 7, 1997. Sprint applied for cable franchises in Wake Forest and Wake County, North Carolina last year, where it had been operating VDT trials but later notified the Commission that it would not seek a cable franchise in this area and that it was terminating video service in Wake County.”

Tying the state-based broadband plans to these federal video dialtone plans has never been done by the FCC or almost anyone else.

In 1993, Pacific Bell, California, announced a plan to have 5.5 million households wired with fiber optics by 2000 and it would spend $16 billion dollars. Alongside that, PacBell was selling the same plan to the FCC as part of the federal video dialtone, but these plans were sometimes mentioned, sometimes not, in their dealing with the media and the public.

We’ve written a great deal about AT&T California as these federal plans were never referenced by the states commissions and none of the cities understood the ties between these different fiber optic plans; each designed to get state rate deregulation or federal actions, such as the creation of the Telecom Act of 1996.

The Plan Was for Fiber Optic Services, in the Majority of the Territories by 2010.

New England Telephone filed for upgrades of Rhode Island and Massachusetts infrastructure, and it included in its

FCC FILING: “NYNEX proposes to deploy hybrid fiber optic and coaxial broadband networks that will provide advanced voice, data, and video services, including interactive video entertainment, multimedia education, and health care services. NYNEX plans to deploy this type of network to the majority of its customers by the year 2010.”

Thus, to repeat, the promise of Video Dialtone was fiber, for all services, and that the majority of the network would we completed by 2010, and this message was in all NYNEX documents, filings, etc — but the VDT part was usually never detailed.

The Wireless Bait and Switch Started in 1995.

FCC REPORT: “Status of LEC Investment. In the 1995 Report, the Commission reported that Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and PacBell had all invested in wireless cable operations. In 1996, one new LEC, BellSouth, entered the wireless cable industry.”

FCC REPORT: “However, late in 1996, Bell Atlantic and NYNEX announced a suspension of their investment in wireless. Also late in 1996, a proposed acquisition by PacTel of a wireless system in northern California collapsed, although PacTel states it is continuing with plans for a southern California digital wireless system.”

Here are a few more quotes:

FCC REPORT: “These reports suggest, however, that PacBell is accelerating construction of the VDT network in the San Francisco Bay Area, scaling back its VDT deployment plans in its other authorized areas, and deploying wireless facilities in those areas in the near term while building out the VDT systems.”

FCC REPORT: “Earlier reports suggested, however, that while still pursuing VDT entry, NYNEX had scaled back its deployment plans and may utilize wireless cable in the near term to reach subscribers while constructing its VDT systems.”

FCC REPORT: “In the 1995 Report, the Commission noted that Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and PacBell had made significant investments in wireless cable. As noted above, BellSouth entered this domain this year with its acquisitions of licenses for a wireless cable system in New Orleans.”

FCC REPORT: “CAl’s wireless systems located in Bell Atlantic’s local telephone service area include Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Norfolk-Virginia Beach. Bell Atlantic would be able to pass four million households in those markets through CAl’s wireless systems. CAl’s wireless systems located in NYNEX’s local telephone service area include New York, Boston, Long Island, Buffalo, Providence, Albany and Syracuse. In addition, CAl has wireless systems in Cleveland, Hartford, Rochester, Stockton/Modesto and Bakersfield.”

FCC REPORT: ‘However, as also noted above, Bell Atlantic and NYNEX have suspended their wireless cable ventures with CAI. Currently, the only operational Multipoint Multichannel Distribution Service (MMDS) that is directly owned by a LEC is the 42,000 subscriber system in Riverside, California owned by PacBell.”

The CAI Wireless Broadband service was yet another telco “bait and switch” that never did work well due to the walls of buildings, big trees, and rain. All of these block a clear line of sight for clean signal reception.

FCC REPORT: “Various factors, including technological limitations (e.g., line-of-sight and channel capacity), have been blamed for the relatively low penetration of wireless cable systems. Due to their relatively small size, wireless cable systems potentially face higher programming costs per-subscriber than many of their larger, wired cable system competitors.”

Thirty years later and Verizon et al. are moving away from using the 5G Mmwave spectrum because, while it can deliver higher speeds it has a short range; its radio signal does not penetrate building walls and it also requires a line of sight with nothing in between to work at high speeds.

Subplots

There are a series of lessons that must be learned from our history — and giving the companies that created the Digital Divide — on purpose — government subsidies and new financial perks, should be seen as a really bad idea.

Working as a cartel, they were able to kill off an entire decade of progress on having a fiber optic future and also left their state utilities to deteriorate. Moreover, whatever commitments they would claim, it would only be done in response to some favor they wanted — extra profits from deregulation or entering new lines of business.

The reason that the announced fiber deployments were made, starting in 1991, was to:

  • Get rate deregulation in their states to increase subscriber revenue but then AT&T et al. didn’t deliver.
  • Push through the Telecom Act of 1996 to enter other lines of business, especially long distance,
  • Push through the mergers of Bell Atlantic-NYNEX and GTE to form Verizon, and SBC-Pacific Telesis, SNET, and Ameritech at this juncture, from 1997–1999.
  • They were able to use this round of fiber optic promises — or a ‘substitute’ for the fiber — i.e., make claims that wireless could replace their fiber plans — and then close everything once the deal or merger went through.

They left America at the end of 2000 with no fiber optic deployments, even though 30–50 million lines should have been installed counting the state commitments. The video dialtone promises were made to get much higher profits to be spent on international telecom investments and for national entertainment investments as well as to get larger to have more political clout — This was the ultimate outcome.

But really, the outcome was — they could rewrite history so none of what we just wrote would be known. That’s true market monopoly power, and we will repeat history if steps are not taken to block these companies from getting more government subsidies.

Finally, this should be a warning sign — do not believe the hype that the companies will deploy fiber optics this time if they are only given more government subsidies. What we have is just another round of fiber to the press release.

Here’s most of the video dialtone applications and their outcomes.

ATT, VERIZON, CENTURYLINK FIBER VIDEO DIALTONE FCC APPLICATIONS

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Bruce Kushnick

New Networks Institute,Executive Director, & Founding Member, IRREGULATORS; Telecom analyst for 40 years, and I have been playing the piano for 65 years.