AG Moves to Stop VZ Substitution of Wireless VoiceLink for Landline Service in Catskills – AARP Files Comments – PSC Extends Public Comment Time

In an Emergency Petition filed with the PSC June 26, 2013, the Attorney General seeks to halt Verizon’s broader substitution of its wireless VoiceLink service for traditional copper landline phone service, which can support DSL and fax applications that the wireless service does not support.  Earlier, the PSC rejected an effort of Verizon to adopt a broad tariff allowing wireless substitution in the aftermath of asserted damage to its landline facilities on western Fire Island after the Sandy storm.  See AG Opposes Verizon Push to Substitute Wireless for Copper Landline Telephone and DSL service. Verizon’s Answer says that it is only substituting the wireless service for landline at customer request.  In its Reply filed July 2. 2013, the Attorney General cites instances of customers being pressured to take the wireless substitute and misinformation regarding the purported need to shift from landline to cell service:

It appears from the above incidents that Verizon is not merely offering Voice Link as an alternative to landline service, permitting customers to freely choose between Voice Link and having their landline service repaired. Even when a customer makes a choice not to accept Voice Link, Verizon continues to press for the substitution at every point of contact. Verizon provides false information, such as asserting that storm damage from Sandy rendered the land line network in the Catskills beyond repair. Verizon also fails to provide consumers with a clear description of the telephone-related features, including fax machines, alarm systems, and medical alert services, that cannot be used with Voice Link. This is clearly not optional consumer choice, and it is incumbent on the Commission to take prompt action to protect consumers from such improper practices.

There is suspicion in some quarters that the substitution of the wireless service in the name of storm damage was being used to advance a broader agenda of market division with cable providers, who would be the only remaining landline provider of broadband after Verizon jettisons its unionized copper line and DSL services to focus on its non unionized wireless division:

Given that it no longer faces the threat of integrated cable competitors, Verizon could potentially spin off its remaining Consumer Wireline assets,” along with “large” pension and benefit liabilities, the Goldman analysts said.

Jonathan Browning & Cornelius Rahn, Verizon Fixed-Line Sale Would Enable Vodafone Combination, Goldman Says, Jan 6, 2012, Bloomberg.com.  Verizon is ranked as New York’s fifth-largest employer, with 27,000 workers.

The PSC is seeking public comments on Verizon’s original tariff filing that would allow greater latitude for the company to substitute wireless for landline service beyone Fire Island, and on June 28 extended the public comment date from July 2, 2013 to September 13, 2013.  To date there have been 290 public comments, including extensive comments of AARP raising concerns over Verizon’s actions and proposals.  See Verizon Draws AARP Opposition Over Move to Eliminate Landlines in NY, Assoc. Says Utility Co.’s Post-Sandy Agenda Would Leave NY Consumers in a Lurch, Jeopardizing Public Safety, July 1, 2013.

Online public comments in the case can be filed from here.  Meanwhile NY PSC Staff are conducting discovery to probe Verizon’s assertion that it is not cost effective to repair its landline facilities in the storm damaged areas of Fire Island, asking why apparently ample spare facilities are not being used.

Gerald A. Norlander

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