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Verizon Files Tariff Allowing Company to Abandon Wired Phone/Broadband Service in New York; Fire Island First to Go

Phillip Dampier May 7, 2013 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Video, Wireless Broadband 19 Comments

fire islandVerizon Communications has filed a formal tariff obtained by Stop the Cap! with the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) that would establish conditions under which it can abandon its wired network in favor of wireless-only service.

If approved, Verizon will be able to drop wired landline and broadband service in any area of the state if the company can:

  • certify that a substantial portion of its facilities in an area are destroyed, rendered unusable, or beyond reasonable repair, or,
  • demonstrates that the use of wireless to serve specified customers, or groups of customers, is otherwise reasonable in light of the geographic location, the availability of competitive facilities to serve those customers or groups of customers, or in light of other criteria acceptable to the PSC.

Verizon is using the case of Fire Island, N.Y., to attempt a rewrite of New York’s communications tariffs. Although eastern Fire Island suffered some damage from Hurricane Sandy, a considerable amount of Verizon’s infrastructure further west did not survive the storm. Verizon wants to abandon that wired infrastructure, avoid spending money to upgrade the island to fiber optic service, and switch customers to a voice-only, wireless service called Voice Link that would leave Verizon’s DSL customers without broadband.

verizonAlthough Verizon has currently only applied to drop wired service to the “western portion of Fire Island,” the tariff would set conditions under which Verizon could abandon its landline network for financial reasons in other portions of the state. For example, Verizon could argue that its declining number of rural landline customers are no longer financially viable to serve because of wired network upkeep and upgrade expenses. Verizon’s application would also allow it to abandon older facilities where competitive services (wireless or wired) are available, and allow Verizon’s wireless products to be considered a suitable alternative to meet universal service requirements.

Verizon says it will offer the same basic calling packages that landline customers can get at the same or lower prices. The company also promises to adhere voluntarily to PSC regulations on customer protection, customer complaints, service quality, safety and reliability.

But Verizon does not promise to offer a functionally equivalent wireless replacement for the landline.

For example, Verizon only promises to support voice calls, access local and toll calling, emergency services with E911 capability, assistance services, telecommunications relay services, and directory listings, including the option of non-published service.

Data services are not supported. Current Verizon DSL customers with unlimited use plans will be forwarded to Verizon Wireless to sign up for the same limited use wireless broadband plans already available in the rest of the country (the ones that charge $50 for up to a handful of gigabytes of monthly usage, depending on the plan). Business customers will need to buy new equipment and sign new contracts with Verizon Wireless (or other wireless carriers) to process credit card transactions. Although some voice calling features are supported, an exact list remains unavailable.

In the event of a power failure, a built-in backup battery will provide up to two hours of talk time, after which the line will stay out of service until commercial power is restored.

Verizon Voice Link: The company's landline replacement, works over Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Voice Link: The company’s landline replacement, works over Verizon Wireless. (Asbury Park Press)

Because Verizon Wireless’ existing cellular network serving Fire Island is inadequate, the company has agreed to upgrade and improve service to the island.

Verizon argues its wireless solution is the only answer that makes sense.

“The cost of replacing facilities is very high, and if hurricanes or other severe storms occur in the future, there is a significant risk that the newly installed outside plant would again be damaged or destroyed,” argues Verizon’s Manuel Sampedro, who is overseeing Verizon’s service restoration effort on Fire Island. “Wireless service is already the predominant mode of voice communication on the island.”

But in the event of another major storm, Verizon’s wireless facilities could also be knocked out of service, potentially for weeks, as happened during Hurricane Sandy.

In the nearby coastal city of Long Beach, N.Y., every cell tower in the area failed because of the storm . City Manager Jack Schnirman told the FCC at a recent hearing wireless proved no more robust than any other technology, and described a frustrating experience attempting to reach representatives from major cell phone carriers about when exactly service could be restored.

“Long Beach reached out to one of the carrier’s customer support departments, explained the devastation and inquired about the carrier deploying a cell on wheels,” Schnirman said. “The customer service rep replied, ‘you might want to look that up on the Internet, I don’t know what that is.’ Well obviously, ironically, we had no Internet at that time.”

Customers did not fare any better.

“There was one woman in particular who passed away, of natural causes, an elderly woman,” Schnirman said. “And her daughter had to walk literally a mile and a half from her home to police headquarters just to say, ‘Listen, my mom has passed, and I thought I should tell somebody.’ ”

Wireless carriers are not obligated to provide backup service in the event of a power failure. An FCC effort to set minimal standards for backup cell service was met with legal threats by the wireless industry and the FCC backed down.

Verizon is in a hurry to win approval of its tariff change, requesting its filing be approved and take effort on less than 30 days’ notice with a waiver of the requirement that it publish a public notice about the change in area newspapers.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Reuters ATT Verizon try to put end to landline telephone era 4-5-13.flv[/flv]

Reporter David Cay Johnston says Verizon and AT&T’s efforts to abandon the landline are no accident. They are part of a larger lobbying effort to abandon company obligations under the “carrier of last resort” policies that guarantee every American access to quality landline telephone service. Wireless phone service is unregulated. Johnston isn’t the only one reporting on this story. Stop the Cap! has covered it repeatedly since early 2010. (2 minutes)

Currently there are 19 comments on this Article:

  1. elfonblog says:

    Ok Verizon, you can abandon Fire Island, but we’re taking back your exclusivity zones, tax breaks and other subsidies. And if a potential competitor moves into your old stomping grounds, you are unconditionally barred from whining about it for a period of time no shorter than the period in which you had originally occupied the territory.

  2. James Cieloha says:

    Every Verizon customer in Fire Island, New York should be ashamed of Verizon for choosing to abandoned wireline service in favor of the Voice Link wireless serivce in Fire Island, New York very severely.

    I feel that Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon are trying to be way too big being like the Wal-Mart’s, the Marlboro’s, the Joe Camel’s, the Paramount Pictures with the movie theater chain of the 1940’s, the Clive Davis’s when he was at Columbia Records in the 1970′s, the Neil Bogart’s of Casablanca Records fame of the 1970′s disco era, the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s, the David Smith (one of the Smith brothers from Sinclair Broadcast Group), the Perry Sock and the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, the Harry Pappas as part of the Pappas Telecasting Companies, the Bernard Madoff’s, the Enron’s, the Worldcom’s, the Adelphia’s, the Tyco’s, the Martha Stewart’s, the Jill Kelley’s, the Orie sister’s, and the Jesse Jackson Jr’s, of the 2000′s by letting greed get out of control so all of the head employees and bosses at Verizon to be able to enjoy carefree lavishly spending to support carefree lavishly lifestyles with luxurious homes, luxurious yachts, luxurious jets, luxurious cars, join luxurious clubs, go to luxurious conventions, go to luxurious hotels, go to luxurious casinos to do gambling, go to horse races, throw luxurious parties, and have other luxurious items just to make them very happy then trying and willingness to improve the quality of all of their employees and making the customers very happy as well. I hope and I wish that Verizon goes out of business for their unwillingness to care for their customers and their employees. I feel that Verizon are trying to bribe like the General Tire/RKO General of the 1960′s and 1970′s by not being very honest of not only the customers and also on themselves.

    I hope and I wish that the FCC would allow all the television and telephone providers with internet broadband that has never ever impose usage caps to the internet broadband customers be allowed to purchase and acquired customers from Verizon and are being required to make a real big concession that they would promised not to have any difficulties with all the internet broadband providers competitors and their customers by not imposing usage caps and meters and raising prices for them to put them out of business sooner and without any interference for 12 straight whole years.

    I feel that Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon are way too big being way too busy being the Baauer Harlem Shake, the PSY Gangnam Style, the Carly Rae Jepsen Call Me Maybe, the Nicole Westbrook It’s Thanksgiving, the Rebecca Black Friday, the Double Take Hot Problems and the Guns N Roses Axl Rose as well as trying be act like the Jerry Sandusky’s as the assaulters, the Jodi Arias’s, the Casey Anthony’s, the Charles Starkweather’s, the Charles Manson’s, the Lyle and Erik Menendez’s, the O. J. Simpson’s, the Scott Peterson’s, and the Drew Peterson’s as the greedy murderers, the Lindsay Lohan’s as the drunk and the drug abuser, the Rodney Dangerfield’s, the John Belushi’s, and the Chris Farley’s as the comedians, the Gordon Gekko’s, the Victoria Grayson’s, the Victor Newman’s/the Jack Abbott’s, the J. R. Ewing’s/the Cliff Barnes’s, the Charles Montgomery Burn’s, the Homer and Bart Simpson’s, the Peter Griffin’s, the Mickey Mouse’s/the Minnie Mouse’s, the Bugs Bunny’s/the Daffy Duck’s/the Porky Pig’s, the Garfield cat’s, the Cookie Monster’s, the Miss Piggy’s, and the Pillsbury Doughboy’s, of the television, telephone and internet broadband industry of preferring to make customers be forced to have Voice LInk wireless service in Fire Island, New York.

    I feel that Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon are trying to turn into the 1919 Chicago White Sox’s baseball team and the Southern Methodist University football of the 1980′s to force all the customers to accept whether or not the customers will be willing to deal with Verizon customer service and making them deal with just Voice Link wireless service in Fire Island, New York by the use of extortion. I urge all the Verizon customers in Fire Island, New York to boycott Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon right now for making all the customers suffer from having to deal with being forced to be stuck with having Voice Link wireless service in Fire Island, New York in a big huge ugly game of baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw chicken in the future of the telephone industry.

    I’m commented in response to all Verizon customers who are very sick and tired of all the ways Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon to make sure that communities don’t build their own broadband networks and have fears to see Verizon internet service deteriorate very much rapidly in a heartbeat in Fire Island, New York.

    I gracefully would support all community internet broadband providers and would want all of them to be able to be allowed to provide the fastest internet speeds of up to 1GB very fairly by the communities being allowed to build their own fiber optics cable lines without interference from Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon with the fact that Verizon is already providing very limited internet broadband service at way less broadband speeds to all of their own customers.

    I hope and I wish that Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon is willing to allow all the communites to build out their own fiber optic cable networks for their superior mega fast internet broadband service that beats out Verizon internet service and speeds to all of their own customers in Fire Island, New York.

    To be very honest, I commented to the article as a public service to share my concerns and opinions and my fears into what is going on with the future of Verizon wireline and broadband customers over in Fire Island, New York.

  3. Scott Dunn says:

    Seems like there should be some competitor interested in laying fiber to service these customers. I doubt that Google Fiber could land there, but isn’t there someone else willing to build the service and infrastructure?

    • txpatriot says:

      Laying new or replacement infrastructure is a VERY expensive proposition, even if VZ stood aside and didn’t oppose it. That’s why you don’t see a spate of carriers rushing in to take over VZ’s wireline business. I sympathize with the people of Fire Island but I also understand why VZ is doing this.

      • elfonblog says:

        Yeh. “Thousands and thousands” is very expensive to you and me. Billions is expensive to an entity like Verizon. But unlike you and me, a telco can acquire a loan and perks to build mega-infrastructure, and make a breathtaking profit in the long run. It’s not the cost of replacing the infrastructure that has them worried whatsoever. But that is the language they use when speaking down to us outsiders.

        Personally, I don’t like to be condescended, and I roll my eyes at FUD like that.

        Verizon feels like dragging their heels and proposing fixed wireless as a suitable replacement for landline for reasons of their own. The lost goodwill, the cost of processing complaints, and the cost of replacing sketchy fixed wireless receivers every few years when they burn out, must surely be more expensive than burying a cable that will last 100 years. This gives us insight into their future plans.

        If your “understanding” of VZ’s motives is anything at all other than “maximize profit” (which means “play poker and reject smaller profits”), then you must not have any sense of history. They’re either planning to abandon the zone entirely, too disorganized to make a proper repair effort, or are waiting to see if they can dupe the taxpayers into paying them to run a cable. I’d bet the old cable is only broken in 1 or 2 places. The storm was not a disaster for them, but rather an opportunity.

        • txpatriot says:

          @elfonblog: If laying the infrastructure is as cheap (and profitable) as you imply, then you tell me why no other entities are rushing in to fill the void.

          Also, your description of the likely damage to VZ’s facilities leads me to believe you have little to no actual experience with such facilities & damage. Please feel free to enlighten me.

          • elfonblog says:

            Actually, I think I did an adequate job of explaining how telcos can swing a project that is beyond the means of average men.

            As for my experience; Yes, I am qualified to speak. I work for a major company which provides data, telcom and hosting services to businesses. This is my 3rd such job, including having worked for Northop Grumman as a NOC engineer for a facility running core TX DOT and HHS servers. Before that, I worked for several local full-service ISPs, all of which suffered from the same manipulative monopoly telcos that Phillip writes about here.

            So I do know a wee bit about the subject of cartel pricing of bandwidth, monitoring and preventing outages and rapid response to incidents of all types. If you don’t feel enlightened yet, please feel free to say so.

      • elfonblog says:

        Oh, and lest you claim things like “plans change” or “industry realities”, “financial hardship”, etc., you should realize that VZ would never have deployed to Fire Island without figuring out what the lifetime of the cables would be, and known in advance what the cost of repairing infrastructure would be over the lifetime of their presence there.

        Oh, and INSURANCE.

        • txpatriot says:

          @elfonblog: tell me under what conditions VZ would have had a choice to NOT deploy facilities to Fire Island?

          If VZ is the certified local provider on that island, then under normal regulatory requirements (caveat: I don’t claim to be an expert on the NY PSC but I assume their regulatory requirements are not different than other PSCs with which I am familiar, e.g., VA, OH, FL, OR, TX, etc.), they had an OBLIGATION to provide service to ANYONE on the island who wanted service.

          There’s no “cost-benefit” analysis. If they are the licensed provider, then they have to provide service, end of story.

          • elfonblog says:

            I’m no expert on NY law either, so I’m not going to take a stab at straw men. But it’s not the end of the story. This blog does a great job of documenting cases where obligated providers construct amazing frameworks whereby to escape their obligations. Do you read it much?

            • Verizon is the carrier of last resort in New York for most of the state, with Frontier serving a large portion of western New York (mostly Rochester and area code 585). We also have a range of independent providers in smaller communities.

              Fire Island is, candidly, mostly a seasonal tourist destination. There are permanent residents, but not very many. The same is true on New Jersey’s barrier island.

              I can see Verizon’s cost/benefit analysis at work here. Why spend the money on fiber or new copper if wireless will do. It’s the same kind of math that keeps fiber out of Verizon’s smaller service areas.

              This is where a regulator can force the issue. In return for raking in profits with FiOS in wealthy, urban areas, the company must spend some of those profits to maintain quality wired landline service in rural areas. Voice Link is not ready for prime time. It lacks important calling features, does not support data, and relies on the same vulnerable wireless infrastructure that utterly failed during the same storm that wiped out their landline network.

              Verizon claims that replacing copper with copper means the network will only fail with the next storm. Replacing copper with fiber, which is not vulnerable to water, is a better option. Wireless cannot be a replacement for wired landline service until there is much more network redundancy, a solid plan for backup in the event of power interruptions, and the inclusion of at least the same features supported by the older network (DSL).

              Asking people to pay Verizon Wireless data prices to get back broadband is a deal breaker right there.

              • txpatriot says:

                Fiber is only a marginally better option than copper in terms of resiliency (I know fiber is preferable in terms of bandwidth but that’s not my point).

                But the fact is, fiber requires electronics to work, and those electronics are just as susceptible to water damage as copper wire (and for that matter, so are the electronics needed to make wireless work). So it gets back to money: knowing that all three are susceptible to water damage (copper wire, fiber electronics and wireless electronics), which makes more sense economically? The answer is wireless.

                You and your readers may not like that answer, but that doesn’t change the facts. My guess is the NY PSC will agree, but your readers need to contact them anyway and make their opinions known.

                • txpatriot says:

                  Also, it is a myth that fiber strands are not susceptible to water damage. In fact, they are; here are two examples:

                  http://204.246.68.195/icefree3.html

                  • Even Norscan admits any damage comes only after a “prolonged period of time” and is in the business of selling products that mitigate the threat of damage, so they have a direct financial interest hyping their case.

                    Polywater also sells products designed to prevent temporary outages caused by ice. They also admit that once weather warms, fiber service interrupted by ice resumes working as before. Careful and appropriate installation of fiber can eliminate many of these problems.

                    Neither of these links proves your assertion fiber “is only marginally better” than copper in terms of “resiliency.”

                    Verizon’s copper network went underwater in Manhattan and on the shoreline for several hours to about a week and that was the end of it. That network failure was not just from water getting into electronics. The copper cables themselves were subject to unacceptable corrosion and were not suitable candidates for repair.

                    Verizon admits “robust fiber” is all about resiliency:

                    […] The steps these building owners are taking, in conjunction with the new fiber infrastructure from Verizon, will provide additional protection for the communications infrastructure in lower Manhattan in the event of future large-scale weather events.

                    Once the project is complete, the area will have the nation’s most advanced communications infrastructure, providing customers with the highest level of service and reliability. Furthermore, the modernization project will make lower Manhattan “future-proof,” enabling Verizon to continually update the communications infrastructure with new capabilities for decades to come.

                    http://www.verizon.com/about/news/critical-steps-completed-bringing-fiberoptic-connectivity-lower-manhattan/

                • elfonblog says:

                  Wireless is no match for fiber or even copper in terms of bandwidth, futureproofing or resiliency in adverse environments. Wireless is suitable for a quick initial deployment, but it’s not a long term solution, and it’s certainly not appropriate as a permanent replacement.

                  Picture the Dept of Transportation offering expensive bicycle rentals as a permanent solution to the whole IH-35 hwy upper deck pancaking onto the lower deck. That won’t fly. Fiber wins hands-down.

  4. txpatriot says:

    By the way, if anyone opposes this idea, they should make their views known to the NY PSC. I don’t know the rules in NY for protesting a tariff filing like this, I suppose at a minimum you must live in NY and be served by VZ wireline service in order to show you have a “justiciable interest”, but IANAL and will gladly defer to anyone reading this who actually knows the rules up there.

  5. txpatriot says:

    The NY PSC partially approved the VZ Tariff filing; you can find the Order and press release on this page:

    http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/MatterManagement/CaseMaster.aspx?MatterSeq=42688

    The NY PSC suspended the part of the tariff filing that would have allowed VZ to expand Voice Link beyond Fire Island. The NY PSC is asking for public comment regarding further deployment. Here is your chance to have your voices heard. Let the NY PSC know what you think about what VZ wants to do.

    I don’t know the rules for commenting in NY but I assume you have to be a NY resident and be either an actual or potential customer of VZ. If you’re not sure of your rights to comment, just ask them.

    Venting on the web is fine as far as it goes, but if you want your opinion to make a difference, the decision-makers need to hear it and it needs to be part of the “record” upon which they base their decision.

  6. txpatriot says:

    FCC says slamming by VoIP providers is OK:

    http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2013/db0531/DA-13-1294A1.pdf

    So it looks like VZ would not need FCC approval to unilaterally move these former POTS customers to VoIP if that’s what it wanted to do.

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