June 20, 2008

Verizon Deal Angers Babylon Barrier Beach Residents

By Chau Lam, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jun. 20--Babylon residents living on the barrier beaches are livid that Supervisor Steven Bellone and town board members struck a deal to let Verizon Communications sell FiOS to all town residents but them.

"It's like the town sold us out," said John Brunkard, 38, a Suffolk County police officer who lives on Oak Beach. "We pay a lot of taxes over here, and we're being treated like second-class citizens."

Bellone did not return calls for comment.

Telephone service on the barrier islands is poor, residents said, and their 911 calls are sometimes tough to hear because of background noise. Some are using dial-up Internet connections.

FiOS, or any cable service, would improve residents' telephone and Internet quality as well as allow them to get cable TV.

Early this month, Bellone and three board members signed a 10-year agreement allowing Verizon to sell cable TV to the town's more than 200,000 residents -- except those on the barrier islands, including Gilgo Beach, Oak Island and Captree.

John Bonomo, a Verizon spokesman, said there are too few potential customers there to justify the costs of laying down the fiber-optic network. He would not say how much it would cost.

Under the franchise agreement, which awaits approval by the state Public Service Commission, Verizon agreed to pay Babylon a franchise fee of 5 percent of gross revenue in exchange for use of the town's streets and other rights-of-way.

Verizon also agreed to pay Babylon a one-time fee of $104,250 and another $600,000 over 10 years.

"What upsets me the most is that the town is making money from a deal that shuts out a portion of its residents," said Maggie L'Hommedieu, 58, who lives on Oak Island.

Bud Maaser, 79, a retired phone worker who has lived on Gilgo Beach year-round for more than three decades, said Bellone and board members Jacqueline Gordon, Lindsay Henry and Ellen McVeety have treated him and his neighbors unfairly.

"Why are we being discriminated against over here? We pay the same taxes. We should be entitled to the same services as the other residents," Maaser said.

Cablevision, whose contract in Babylon expires June 30, is negotiating to renew.


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