Copper wire is expensive and old-fashioned. Phone companies don’t want to maintain or use it anymore. Still, some customers like their reliable old land-lines, and the law creates certain obligations for phone companies to provide and maintain them. But Verizon is apparently so sick and tired of providing plain old telephone service that they’re threatening to disconnect customers who don’t “voluntarily” upgrade to fiber A.S.A.P.
Local media outlet NJ TV News is reporting that a resident in northern New Jersey is receiving disconnection threats from Verizon. It’s not that she hasn’t paid her bills; it’s that Verizon just isn’t interested in providing her phone service anymore — unless she lets them come run fiber to her house.
The customer received a letter dated May 15 saying that “services will be suspended on or after 45 days from the date of this letter, if you do not allow Verizon reasonable access to your premises … to move your service to our fiber-optic network.”
“Once your service is suspended,” it continued, “you will only be able to call 9-1-1 and our customer service number … 14 days after being suspended, Verizon service at your address will be disconnected.”
The customer contacted the NJ Division of Rate Counsel, a state-level agency that represents consumer interests in dealing with utility companies (including cable and telecom services). The division has filed a petition with New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities, asking the Board to investigate the letter.
The director of the Division, Stefanie Brand, told NJTV News she thought the letter was “pretty heavy-handed,” and added, “We were shocked. We thought this was clearly a violation of a bunch of state statutes and certainly Verizon’s obligation to be the provider of last resort.”
The AARP has also become involved, with the organization’s interim state director telling NJTV News, “Where Verizon gets the chutzpah to take such rude and inappropriate steps with their own customers is completely beyond belief and it’s completely unjustifiable. The people of New Jersey need to be able to live by the rule of law and not the rule of Verizon’s corporate fiat.”
Verizon’s “get lost” attitude toward copper-wire landline subscribers — those who connect to plain old telephone service, as the FCC calls it — is nothing new.
The company started pushing hard on New York and New Jersey area subscribers in 2012. Later that year, when Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed cables in the region, Verizon took it as an opportunity to not replace them at all and just do away with the lines instead.
By 2013, AT&T and Verizon were accused of cutting off copper-wire DSL customers without warning, to force FiOS and Uverse upgrades. In 2014, Verizon was accused of deliberately neglecting their copper-wire network in order to force consumers to upgrade to fiber. And not even a month ago, the union representing telecommunications workers publicly accused Verizon of failing to meet their network maintenance obligations.
The eventual transition off of copper wire and onto an entirely data-based network is basically inevitable. About 18 months ago the FCC approved trials that would lead to the end of copper landlines, and late in 2014 the commission proposed a set of guidelines for consumer protection as the IP transition continues.
The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has recently signed an agreement with Verizon to slowly transition the state from copper to fiber, and to phase out and deregulate the old lines. However the Division of Rate Counsel is disputing the agreement, and the state agencies are still fighting it through in court.
Customers may be wise to be wary. Verizon in particular has also been called out recently for their total failure to meet their promises for FiOS rollout coverage. And the company has said more than once that they are basically done building out that network, and have no plans to expand any further. That explicitly includes New Jersey, despite promises the company made to wire the whole state with fiber broadband.