Verizon Makes Good on Fire Island
Verizon Makes Good on Fire Island
Verizon Makes Good on Fire Island

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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.

    Pointing to our Five
    Fundamental Principles
    that we at PK think should guide the transition of
    the phone network, I wrote
    at the time

    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.

    the principle of consumer
    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
    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 oversigh
    t, 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.