My big-fat, six-hour Verizon FiOS installation

With a new high-definition television, and in expectation of the Super Bowl this Sunday, I decided it was finally time to take the plunge from standard cable to fiber optics, so I called up Verizon and ordered their three-in-one FiOS package, which includes cable TV, phone, Internet service and a free 19" high-def television (Note: The free television doesn't ship overnight. It will take a couple of months to arrive. Surprise!).

While the FiOS service is marketed as a $99-per-month, two-year contract, Verizon will hit you up for an additional $10 monthly rental charge for each high-definition television converter box (it's $5 for a standard box), as well as for various state and federal fees and taxes. All said, with three television boxes and no movie channels, the total service came to about $155 per month.

In case you didn't know, and cared, FiOs simply stands for Fiber Optic Service.

The initial installation took about an six hours. Let me repeat that -- six hours. But I have heard it can take longer. Mine went relatively smoothly. The six-hour install day includes running optical cable from the Fiber Distribution Terminal (that's the black box on the street pole), drilling a one-inch diameter hole through the side of my house to run cable through and installing a 1X2 foot white box, called an ONT or Optical Network Terminal on a wall. I told the technician to locate mine in a closet abutting an outside wall on the street-pole side of the house.

The ONT is the local brains of the fiber optic service, and converts optical (light) from fiber optic cable to data, dial tone and radio frequency for your Internet, telephone and cable TV. The ONT comes with one Ethernet port, two phone jacks and a coax cable jack that takes standard RG6 cable.

Instead of using Ethernet to my wireless router, the technician used a Media over Coax Appliance (MoCA), which allows you to run the converted fiber optic signals over existing coax cable in your house. They also give you a backup battery for the ONT, which gives you 6 to 8 hours of talk time on the phone should your power go out. The tech told me he could have run Ethernet straight to the wireless router, but the hookup can be catch, catch can.

The Verizon technician will also spend a significant amount of time setting you up with a Verizon online account, which includes bill pay, free e-mail, online backup and web page creation services, among other bells and whistles. I doubt I'll use them as I already have my own favorites, as I suspect most people do.

The Internet test

Prior to the install, I tested my computer's network speed on my RCN cable link using a free online service from Speakeasy Inc. I chose a test server in New York City because it was the closest to my home near Boston. The test showed 5.5Mbit/sec download and 660Kbit/sec upload speed. A test running back and forth to a server in San Francisco was pathetic: 1.5Mbit/sec download and 651Kbit/sec upload speed.

After the fiber optics install, the New York server download speed jumped to 8.2Mbit/sec and my upload speed was a blazing 4.3Mbit/sec. What was really impressive was the San Francisco server test, which produced 5.1Mbit/sec download and 4.1Mbit/sec upload speeds -- a vast improvement over my standard cable service. While hardly the up to 30Mbit/sec download speed advertised by Verizon, my Internet page load times truly reflected the increased throughput.

My telephone

Truth be told, I didn't like RCN's telephone service mostly because of its 411 information service, which uses very cheap voice-recognition software. I was lucky if I could get it to recognize a request 30% of the time, and I have no discernable accent (or so I'm told). So far, I've found Verizon's voice recognition software far superior, but more importantly, when the software can't find a number, it doesn't ask you to repeately retry, it immediately transfers you to a live operator -- pure bliss, after suffering through years with RCN's information service.

My television

I did notice a difference in the quality of my television's picture, much brighter and crisper; the color pops off that plasma screen now. With my last cable service I had occassional signal breakup and pixilation. So far, so good with Verizon's FiOS. They don't seem to offer any more high-definition channels than RCN, but the tech supported a rumor I had heard that the company plans on adding 60 more high-definition channels sometime in the spring to keep up with DirecTV. Let's hope so.

Verizon's cable television service does offer a number of additional features, including widgets to find out area weather and traffic conditions by inputting a zip code, and I liked the menu features, which were easy to read and kept a picture-in-picture screen on while I perused by channel choices.

All-in-all, I'm relatively satisfied with the upgrade.

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