Fiber-optic service may stall for some

The fiber-optic Internet service in Nashua and southern New Hampshire that was built by Verizon has been given a new name – FAST – by its new owners, but that doesn’t mean the high-speed system is going to expand any time soon.

“We’re adding 100 customers here, 100 customers there . . . and are looking at a job for a couple of areas in Nashua, but that’s only in the design stage,” said FairPoint Communications spokeswoman Jill Wurm.

FairPoint took over the fiber-optic system that Verizon calls FiOS when it bought all the phone lines in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine this spring.

FiOS replaces copper lines that carry signals via electricity with fiber-optic lines that carry signals via light. This allows much faster Internet service, expanded telephone options and even television channels (although TV was never turned on in New Hampshire).

A frequent question since FairPoint bought the Verizon system in March is what will happen to the FiOS system in parts of Nashua and 23 other communities, from Merrimack to Newington.

FiOS is still being expanded in Massachusetts and commercials touting it regularly appear on Boston-area TV stations, raising hopes that it will expand in New Hampshire.

FairPoint’s attention is split when it comes to high-speed Internet. The company wants to tout the fiber optic system, which can have download speeds up to 30 megabits per second, or five times that offered by archrival cable television systems such as Comcast.

But FairPoint’s regional broadband future is mostly based on a new type of DSL, which is high-speed Internet carried over existing copper lines. This is considerably cheaper to implement than fiber, because FairPoint doesn’t have to string new cables down streets and into homes.

As a result, it’s unclear whether FairPoint will ever expand fiber-to-the-home beyond the existing FiOS “footprint,” although some places within that area have been hooked up since the sale.

Still, the company doesn’t want customers to forget about the fiber-optic service, hence the rebranding as FAST, which stands for Fiber Access Speed Technology.

“The message is, don’t give up – we are adding customers,” said Wurm.

The company has planned events to promote the service, including free ice cream, car washes and rounds of mini golf at stores in areas that are fiber-ready, plus a FAST-branded ice cream truck and “lend-a-hand van” filled with people looking to do good deeds such as helping rake leaves.

Current DSL has top download speeds of about 5 megabits per second; a transition DSL upgrade being rolled out in a few towns has top speeds of 7.1 mbps. FairPoint says that eventually, a new network architecture will allow a different type of DSL with speeds up to 25 mpbs – below fiber-optic, but still much more than cable.

In March, FairPoint bought Verizon’s telephone and wired Internet service in the three Northern New England states for $2.4 billion. It is still in the process of transitioning that network to its control.

The biggest step will come later this year, when customers will have to change their e-mail and Web site addresses.

Verizon Wireless still operates in the region. FairPoint has no wireless telephone system.