For our March meeting we heard from Bob Master, the District 1 Political Director of the Communication Workers of America (CWA)—the union representing Verizon FiOS technicians, and the largest union to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. He’s also a co-founder of the NY Working Families Party and a longtime socialist labor organizer.

We asked him:

How did neoliberalism in the 80s tip the balance of power in favor of cable/fiber providers and what have labor unions done to fight against them?

(The anti-trust break-up of Bell Telephone gave way to de-regulation and reconsolidation starting in the 80s and on through to today. For the most part, the unions have fought for better contracts for their workers, but not against expansion.)

How did the city’s deal with Verizon to install fiber internet service (“FiOS”) across the entire city come about, and how has Verizon’s profit motive led to crappier, unequal service?

(It came about under the Bloomberg administration in an attempt to bridge the digital divide. It did not take into account affordability, so low-income residents have not benefited from “access.” Installation is unequal, but not in the way you would expect—wealthier, historic, less-dense neighborhoods have proven more difficult to wire.)

How does the feasibility of a hypothetical citywide public broadband internet service in NYC compare to that of the program in Chattanooga, and would organized labor support such a program?

(A. There is no preexisiting grid to lay a new system over in NYC. Chances of the City expropriating broadband infrastructure from Verizon or another bad actor are slim and pretty much unprecedented. B. Unions would fight against a public option that would compete with their employer, and potentially jeopardize their jobs with hard-won salaries and benefits.)


  1. 1 million NYC homes can’t get Verizon FiOS, so the city just sued Verizon. News article from a year ago about the city’s lawsuit against Verizon for breach of the FiOS contract.

  2. The New Sewer Socialists Are Building an Equitable Internet. All about the wildly successful municipal broadband program in Chattanooga, written by Tech Action member and previous guest speaker Evan Malmgren.

  3. Municipal Fiber Networks and Public Private Partnerships for Fiber Deployment: A Summary of the Evidence. CWA research summary, dated a few years ago, on municipal broadband programs around the US and the union’s view of their strengths, weaknesses, and feasibility.

Discussion Questions

  1. Now that we’ve heard the labor perspective, how can that guide our thinking on municipal broadband in NY?

  2. Is it still a goal we might try to fight for as DSA?

  3. What are some steps we can take in that direction?

  4. What reforms can we fight for that the union might like to see as well?

  5. If the prospects for local muni-broadband are slim, how can we be involved in this fight on the state level? National level?