Verizon: Sandy Victims Should Be Customers, Not Guinea Pigs
Verizon: Sandy Victims Should Be Customers, Not Guinea Pigs
Verizon: Sandy Victims Should Be Customers, Not Guinea Pigs

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    Verizon wants to
    replace copper landlines destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with a new fixed wireless
    service called Voice Link. But should victims of natural disaster be guinea
    pigs when fundamental basic services are at stake? Especially when it means
    losing access to broadband?

    Ever since Hurricane Sandy destroyed huge pieces of its
    landline network last October, Verizon made
    it clear
    it did not want to rebuild its traditional copper network. Most
    folks assumed that meant replacing damaged copper with fiber. While some
    consumers have grumbled
    about being upgraded to a more expensive service
    , no one doubts fiber to
    the home represents a step up – especially on the broadband side. 

    But what about those communities where Verizon does not want
    to spend the money upgrading to FIOS? Turns out, rather than an upgrade to
    fiber, these communities will play guinea pig for Verizon’s new, cheaper, more
    limited wireless alternative called “Voice Link.”

    Last Friday, Verizon
    filed an application
    with the State of New York to replace traditional copper
    lines destroyed by Sandy on Fire Island with a brand new fixed wireless product
    called Voice Link. Whether or not Verizon is right that Voice Link is “just as
    good or better” than copper lines, that does not justify making a community
    recovering from a natural disaster into test subjects. If Verizon does not want
    to replace its copper system, it should offer customers that don’t want a
    never-before-deployed fixed wireless system an upgrade to FIOS.

    Why Not Copper or

    Verizon’s decision to avoid replacing its traditional copper
    phone lines is part of the overall
    transition of the phone system
    and the shut
    down of the traditional “Public Switched Telephone Network
    ” (PSTN). For
    Verizon, eliminating copper wires to the home using traditional phone
    technology will
    save it a great deal of money
    . From Verizon’s perspective, it makes no
    sense to rebuild an expensive and obsolete traditional copper network. While
    Verizon could deploy FIOS to replace copper, FIOS is also expensive to deploy.
    That’s why Verizon stopped deploying FIOS to the 10 million customers outside
    its existing FIOS footprint.

    So if copper is obsolete, but fiber won’t be profitable
    enough, what can Verizon do (and still make the kind of profit it expects)?
    Verizon’s answer is a new wireless product called Voice Link. Verizon has
    started deploying Voice Link on
    Fire Island
    and in other small
    communities hit by Sandy

    This Isn’t Your Cell
    Phone Kind Of Wireless

    Voice Link is a completely new product Verizon has built to
    provide a cheap alternative to copper phone lines. It is not the same technology
    used in your Verizon Wireless cell phone. It does not give you mobile service,
    and you can’t get Internet access with it. As the mayor of one of the towns on
    Fire Island put it, “Verizon has given us a dial tone, basically.”

    But its not just that DSL
    subscribers have lost access to broadband and won’t get it back
    . The lucky
    citizens of Fire Island get to be the first beta testers for Voice Link’s
    first-ever real world deployment.

    While Verizon says they have tested it and it works just as
    well as a copper line, no one has ever used this product in the real world.
    Businesses that relied on Verizon’s copper network are experiencing problems
    processing credit card payments and handling other electronic transactions that
    relied on the old copper lines. Fax machines may or may not work with the new
    technology. Services for the hard of hearing, such as Telecommunications Device
    For the Deaf (TDD) or Video Relay Service (VRS), may require new equipment—or may not work at all.

    Storm Victims Should
    Not Be Guinea Pigs

    It’s one thing for Verizon to stop offering copper and offer
    fiber services instead. While customers may not like losing their old service
    (including the fact that Verizon copper lines are self-powered and fiber is
    not), Verizon’s FIOS is a well-established technology. We know how it works and
    how to troubleshoot it when it doesn’t. 

    But Voice Link remains a great unknown.

    No one knows what problems might come up, or how to solve
    them if they do. If deaf subscribers have to buy new equipment to have access
    to TDD, will Verizon cover the cost? What happens to businesses that can no
    longer process credit card payments?

    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.

    We at Public Knowledge have stressed that the conversion of
    telephone system to new technologies needs to rest on Five
    Fundamental Principles
    . If 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.

    Image by flickr user New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.