AG Opposes Verizon Push to Substitute Wireless for Copper Landline Telephone and DSL service

Citing damage on the western part of Fire Island from the Sandy storm in early November 2012, about six months later, on May 3, 2013, Verizon filed a new tariff with the New York Public Service Commission seeking permission on short notice to substitute wireless service for landline service, not only on Fire Island but elsewhere. See  Larry Rulison, Blame wireless talk on Sandy – Verizon steps up plan for new phone lines due to storm damage, Times Union, May 7, 2013 (“Superstorm Sandy may have hastened the demise of traditional land line telephones in New York state”).

The filing, if approved by the PSC, could allow Verizon to substitute wireless service for landline in many areas of New York where Verizon has no intention of deploying FIOS and desires to terminate copper landline phone and DSL service, relegating its customers to cable providers, who would then enjoy a monopoly on wired service, or to wireless services, where Verizon is a dominant provider.   See  DSLReports.com :

The Verizon petition is opposed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the New York Attorney General, and PULP.

The matter is on the PSC agenda for May 16, 2013.

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Update

At its May 16, 2013 meeting, the PSC authorized substitution of wireless for wireline service as an interim measure on western Fire Island.  The Commission press release states, in part:

The New York State Public Service Commission (Commission) today, as an interim measure, authorized Verizon New York, Inc. to offer wireless Voice Link service, as an alternative to basic landline service, to certain customers on Fire Island where the copper wire facilities were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. The Commission conditioned its temporary approval of the service, limited to western Fire Island, pending public comment and a further review of documentation submitted by Verizon justifying its decision not to repair the damaged facilities. Under the tariff provisions approved by the Commission, Verizon is required to offer the Voice Link service according to Commission rules and regulations for basic telephone service and would need to seek further approval to offer the service in other areas.

“The decision today is a novel, interim approach to an unusual set of circumstances resulting from Superstorm Sandy, urged on by the need to have telephone service in place by the summer,” said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. “The Commission will exercise its regulatory authority over this service to ensure consumers on Fire Island are protected with requirements relating to customer protection, customer complaints, service quality, safety and reliability, and we will continue to explore what are the best options for permanent repair.”

**** The Commission’s action today is not its final decision on this issue. As part of the ongoing proceeding, the Commission said it will seek comments from interested parties on Verizon’s technology and service plan as it works to determine a permanent solution. The Commission also directed Verizon to provide it with a comprehensive report evaluating the quality and reliability of Voice Link to Fire Island customers by November 1, 2013.

Apparently, the substitution of wireless for wireline service is not the broader latitude sought by Verizon, but rather will be limited to “certain customers on Fire Island where the copper wire facilities were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy….”

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May 22, 2013
The PSC Order Conditionally Approving Tariff Amendments In Part, Revising In Part, and Directing Further Comments indicates the Commission will invite further comment on Verizon’s request for permission to substitute fixed wireless “Voicelink” for landline service.

The wireless service will not support fax or DSL broadband service that customers may now receive on their landlines.  It has been likened to nailing a cellphone to the wall.  

With Verizon essentially trying to exit the landline market in some areas, consistent with its marketing pact with cable companies, customer choices will be reduced, and the logical step for many DSL customers if they lost landline service would be to shift to cable broadband or subscribe to higher cost wireless data service.  

On May 21, 2013 the Commission issued a Notice Inviting Comment in Case 13-C-0197.
The Commission described Voicelink as follows:

Although Voice Link service utilizes the same wireless technology as a cell phone, it is similar in many respects to traditional wireline service. It is designed for use with wireline premises equipment; it remains stationary at one location in the customer’s premises; and, it provides E911 service in the same manner as wired basic telephone service. A small device is installed at a customer’s premises; and, according to Verizon, the device provides superior reception of wireless signals in comparison to regular wireless service. The device is equipped with a battery back-up, in case of commercial power loss. According to Verizon, available devices are equipped with rechargeable battery packs, while newer units are expected to operate on standard AA batteries.
Voice Link Service
In several respects, Voice Link service is materially different compared to traditional wireline services. It is not compatible with fax machines, medical alert and home security monitoring systems, credit card machines and, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology. Voice Link service requires use of mandatory 10 digit dialing, rather than 7 digits, which is the Commission-approved dialing pattern for calls within many area codes, including the 631 area code. It is not equipped to transmit: calls to certain specialized area codes, such as 900; certain central office codes, such as 976 or 950; collect, or reverse charge, calls; or calls to an operator by dialing 0.

The notice invites public comments on these matters by June 18, 2013:

the issues presented include: use of Voice Link in western Fire Island, its use in other geographic areas with destroyed wireline facilities, and its use in areas based upon geographic location, availability of alternative telecommunications providers, or other Commission designated criteria.

Persons interested in obtaining Verizon’s submission and tariff amendment and any other documents filed in the case may view them at http://www.dps.ny.gov. From the Department of Public Service’s homepage, click on Commission Documents, Search by Case Number and enter 13-C-0197. If you are unable to access the documents electronically, you may contact the File Room at (518) 474-2500.

Persons wishing to comment on these matters may do so by June 18, 2013 by: e-filing through the Department’s Document and Matter Management System (DMM), secretary@dps.ny.gov e-mailing the Secretary to the Commission at ; postal mail or hand delivery to Jeffrey C. Cohen, Acting Secretary, New York State Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 12223-1350; calling the toll-free Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120, set up to receive in-state calls 24-hours a day, by pressing 1 for the main menu and 2 to leave comments, mentioning Voice Link or Case 13-C-0197. All comments submitted are entered into the official case record and reported to the Commission for its consideration. Any person may access them at the Department’s Web site http://www.dps.ny.gov by searching 13-C-0197.

The simplest way to comment is to go to the online PSC case file for Case 13-C-0197 and use the “Post Comment” button. One can also view the papers filed and public comments on the case.


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