According to the latest report from the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) , Verizon’s service quality remained poor during the fourth quarter of 2009 . While its customer trouble report rate (the number of service troubles reported by customers per 100 access lines) remains strong, the company repaired out-of-service situations within 24 hours only 48.8 percent of the time (the requirement is 80% restoral in 24 hours) and submitted more Service Inquiry Reports (250) in 2009 than it did in 2007 and 2008 combined. The PSC also found that Verizon has not met its Answer Time standard (80% of calls answered within 30 seconds) in more than two years. Somehow, the PSC Press Release announcing this decision proclaimed “Verizon Meets Most Performance Standards” .
Granted, Verizon has lost half of the access lines it had only eight years ago – at about 52,000 access lines a month – and its largest competitors (wireless providers and the voice service offered by the cable companies) not only are not subject to any of these service quality requirements, they are currently exempt from the state’s consumer protections and do not pay the same taxes and assessments as Verizon. This unlevel playing field has resulted in a skewed marketplace, where tax avoidance replaces service quality or service offerings as a means to support competitive advantage.
Verizon does believe it has a solution to at least part of its service quality issues – change the standards themselves. Currently, when Verizon is unable to access necessary facilities in order to complete a repair (due to the customer or the property owner denying access) and when the customer requests Verizon to repair a trouble not the next day, but several days later, these are counted against the company in calculating its out-of-service 24 hours repair rate. PSC Staff indicated that it will offer for public comment in the near future a proposal to remove these situations from the measurements. Chairman Brown agreed, observing that the out-of-service and other repair metrics should be prioritized where the customer does not have alternative communications options, meaning that if a Verizon customer has a cell phone, it would be OK if they had to wait a few extra days to get their landline service repaired. He took this position despite the fact that accessing emergency services through 911 does not work the same for these “intermodal” competitors as it does for Verizon, if it works at all.
Is this really the direction we want to move in?