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After facing massive customer pushback and sharp regulatory scrutiny on its plan to force Fire Island residents to take Voice Link as a substitute for the copper network destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, Verizon agrees to bring FIOS to Fire Island.
Back in May, Verizon announced it would replace the copper phone network on Fire Island destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with their new “Voice Link” service. From the beginning,we expressed grave concerns with forcing storm victims to take an unproven technology in place of the traditional copper-line phone and DSL broadband they had before Sandy struck. Worse, Verizon warned Voice Link callers might not reliably reach 9-1-1, that fax machines, medical devices, and security systems might not work with Voice Link, and that customers would have to switch to much higher-priced mobile broadband plans to keep their Internet access.
Verizon should not use Sandy victims as guinea pigs for its new technology.
I can sympathize with Verizon not wanting to invest money in copper lines it hopes to replace anyway, but Verizon does have an alternative. It can extend its FIOS build out to these communities and offer Voice Link as a cheap alternative on a voluntary basis. This lets customers decide if they want to be Beta testers or pay for an upgrade. There will still be problems for some (fiber is not compatible with every old technology either), but the possible compatibility problems for customers moving from copper to FIOS are well understood and handled on a routine basis by Verizon’s customer service.
If the principle of consumer protection means anything, it surely protects victims of natural disaster from being forced to switch to untested alternatives with no safeguards or protections. Sandy victims deserve the choice of upgrading to fiber rather than being guinea pigs for Verizon’s new Voice Link.
Today, Verizon acknowledged that many of its customers do not find Voice Link an acceptable substitute for their pre-Sandy copper landline and DSL. Verizon has therefore agreed to deploy FIOS Internet and voice service to Fire Island before Memorial Day next year. As we asked back in May, Verizon will make Voice Link available for those customers who want a low cost alternative. Otherwise, folks have the option to upgrade to fiber.
Its important to acknowledge that without the NY State Public Service Commission (NYPSC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) providing regulatory oversight, nothing would have stopped Verizon from rolling out whatever service they thought “good enough” for a local community with no other provider. The hundreds of complaints by customers and others before these agencies, and accompanying press attention, forced Verizon to acknowledge that Voice Link simply does not substitute for a landline.
At the same time, I want to applaud Verizon for stepping up and acknowledging the reality rather than trying to fight it out to the bitter end. Confronted with growing a chorus of angry customers and possible regulatory pushback, Verizon did the right thing and agreed to bring FIOS to Fire Island.
There are still a number of loose ends that need to be addressed and lessons to learn. Most importantly, the FCC still needs to provide guidance to carriers on their responsibilities when a natural disaster destroys their existing copper network. Much of the expense and confusion around this process could have been avoided if Verizon had a clear understanding of what the law required. Public Knowledge, joined by 18 other public interest organizations, filed a letter with the FCC in July asking the FCC to start a proceeding to provide this guidance, so that all carriers – and more importantly, all Americans – know what to expect when rebuilding their communities. Additionally, the future of Verizon's network in other communities is still uncertain. (Mantoloking, Catskills)
Americans rebuilding their communities have a right to expect a communications network as good, or better, than what they had before they lost everything in a disaster. I’m glad Verizon has agreed to acknowledge that responsibility, and that they will step up and do what needs to be done. I’m glad that the NY PSC and the FCC stepped up and met their responsibilities to force Verizon to put the public interest ahead of profits. But most of all, I’m glad the people of Fire Island and elsewhere stepped up to make their voices heard.