What’s up with our phones? Yes, many have shifted almost completely to cellular, or the whole genre now known as “smart phones.” But what about the landlines that fax machines, credit card readers, home security and some health monitoring systems still use…along with those in the region still using dial-up Internet services? Or pay phones, for that matter. Or DSL Internet connections, when you get right down to it.
The massive telecommunications company Verizon is proposing a new system, Voice Link, to replace the old systems of copper wiring strung throughout rural America…and sidestepping the fiber optics systems many were long ago promised. But instead of receiving accolades, or even acceptance, the Verizon proposal’s been met with concern, outright rejection, and the threat of lawsuits and fines. Which in turn has pushed Verizon into a defensive crouch, of sorts.
In late June, New York State Attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed a petition alleging that Verizon was directing its technicians in the Catskills to install Voice Link rather than repair existing wireline networks whenever a seasonal customer seeking to restart service experienced connection issues. The charges were similar to ones made after Hurricane Sandy devastated phone lines on Fire Island, and the state Public Services Commission allowed Verizon to try out its new Voice Link technology there as an experiment…and found the system lacking.
Voice Link is basically a wireless service that utilizes regional boxes and the airwaves to transmit signal. Schneiderman has stated that he believes Verizon’s push to get out of its traditional copper networks is causing it to violate a decades-old pact that the nation’s largest telcos signed allowing them near-exclusive franchises in exchange for basic universal service.
“Verizon’s provision of Voice Link outside the confines of western Fire Island is illegal, and its open defiance of the Commission’s May 16 order must be met with effective sanctions,” Schneiderman wrote on June 26 in his petition. “By connecting customers outside western Fire Island with Voice Link, Verizon knowingly violated a commission order and should be fined $100,000 per day for each violation, until the violation is corrected.”
Following the AG’s actions, State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill held a teleconference on the matter and put out his own statement asking Verizon to abandon its Voice Link plans.
“I want Verizon landline customers in the Catskills and elsewhere to know that they are not required to accept Voice Link services and they should not let themselves be bullied into having an inferior system installed in their home or business,” Cahill said after co-sponsoring a bill which would impose a moratorium on the installation of wireless technologies in place of traditional landlines until a study can be conducted on the product’s impact on reliability, efficiency and safety. “In some regions of my district like Shandaken, cell service is nearly non-existent and during Hurricane Irene in 2011 people lined up to use the only reliable communication devices: landlines. While more and more people are using cellular service as their primary means of voice calls, it is important to remember that this technology is just not ready for prime time.”
Late in July, AARP joined in the cries against Verizon, and the company stopped replacing copper wiring on the Jersey shore.
This past week, State Senator Terry Gipson (D, Rhinebeck) put out his own release urging the state Public Service Commission to reject Verizon’s petition to replace wired phone lines with its wireless “Voice Link” service in certain areas.
“I am concerned that it will jeopardize the safety of families during weather related emergencies and I am concerned that it will raise the cost of doing business, so I am asking the PSC to take a much larger look at this issue and take my concerns under consideration before they make a decision,” he said.
So what’s Verizon saying?
“Recent criticism about Verizon’s Voice Link service shows a fundamental misunderstanding about what the service is and how the company is using it,” wrote spokesman John Bonomo in a letter to local newspapers in recent weeks. “Voice Link is an innovative solution for a specific segment of Verizon’s voice-only customers that delivers reliable voice service using our trusted and reliable wireless network. Unlike copper-based service, it is less likely to fail during an adverse weather event because of our wireless networks’ resiliency.”
Continuing, Verizon said what they were offering was “an option for targeted voice-only customers that experience regular issues on their copper network.” Moreover, he points out, it includes features such as “unlimited local and domestic long-distance calling, popular calling features like Caller ID with name, and, the same enhanced 911 capability as wireline phone service.”
“It is unproductive to focus on what the technology can’t do especially when failing to take into consideration the very specific set of needs it meets for certain, targeted customers,” Bonomo concludes. “Voice Link’s limits are not even relevant to the targeted voice customers Voice Link serves, since it will not be offered as an option to those customers.”
Public Comments can be filed on this matter by contacting the PSC via e-mail at email@example.com, posting a public comment online at www.dps.ny.gov, calling the Commmissions’ toll free line at 1-800-335-2120 or by mailing comments to Hon. Jeffrey C. Cohen, Acting Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350. Reference Case13-C-0197 in all correspondence. The deadline for public comment is September 13.