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Updated: Stop the Cap! Learns Verizon Allegedly Trying to Sneak Wireless Voice Link Into the Catskills

Phillip Dampier June 26, 2013 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Wireless Broadband 2 Comments

exclusiveStop the Cap! has received information from customers and anonymous employees that Verizon Communications is allegedly attempting to pressure seasonal residents in the rural Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York to give up their landline phone service in favor of the company’s wireless alternative, Voice Link, in potential violation of an order from the New York Public Service Commission limiting its deployment to sections of Fire Island.

Two Verizon customers who own vacation property in the mountainous region of upstate New York in and around Monticello separately contacted Stop the Cap! after doing online research on the wireless product Verizon representatives attempted to sell them.

Both reported they were pressured by Verizon’s service/repair department to accept the landline alternative after attempting to reconnect their seasonal telephone service. In one case, a customer had to call Verizon three times to attempt to reconnect her disconnected phone line after a missed appointment.

“They wanted nothing to do with coming out here to put my old phone line back in service,” says the customer, one of two we have been asked to leave unidentified in light of certain forthcoming legal proceedings. “I got transferred twice and finally ended up talking to someone pushing something called Voice Link.”

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

Verizon Voice Link

The customer tells us she never heard of Voice Link and Googled information about it, ending up on Stop the Cap!’s website which has maintained ongoing coverage of the product’s introduction on Fire Island.

“I called them back and told them they must be mistaken because I don’t own property on Fire Island and they told me it was no mistake and that they were preparing to distribute Voice Link all across the area and I was lucky to be among the first before they ran out,” the customer tells us.

The second customer, who has since taken his complaint to the Attorney General of New York, claims he was offered the same service from Verizon a week later.

“When I called to get my dial tone back, Verizon transferred me to a special repair representative who wanted to install Voice Link instead,” he tells us. “It was explained I would be better off with Voice Link and would get more calling features for less money and get national calling, free voicemail, and all of these other extras.”

The customer tried to turn the offer down, but Verizon made it difficult to refuse.

“You really had to argue with them and say no at least a dozen times,” our reader tells us. “The reason I said no is that I tried that same type of service from Verizon Wireless and it sucked. I raised my voice and they finally agreed to reconnect my phone.”

We have also received e-mail from individuals claiming to be Verizon employees represented by the Communications Workers of America indicating Verizon delivered a large shipment of Voice Link units for deployment in the Catskills, despite the fact Verizon is apparently not authorized by the PSC to offer the service to customers outside of the western half of Fire Island, and only on an interim basis.

Verizon’s use of Voice Link in upstate New York will almost certainly raise questions with regulators who negotiated the agreement with Verizon over the limited use of Voice Link during its evaluation, especially if customers report they were not offered the service only as an option.

If the allegations are true, Verizon may be signaling its confidence it will succeed adopting Voice Link as a mandatory rural landline replacement in parts of New York State and isn’t waiting for final approval from the PSC.

Verizon’s Jarryd Gonzales denied Verizon is responsible for any wrongdoing, noting nothing in the PSC’s Fire Island proceeding restricts Verizon’s ability to offer Voice Link service as an option, which he confirmed the company was doing in Monticello. (See PSC order here, reference page five: “Finally, the amendment will not apply in areas where Verizon offers the alternative wireless service as an optional service [i.e., traditional wired facilities are still in place].”)

“Verizon’s VoiceLink is an innovative and proven product that already is providing quality and reliable voice telephone service to residents of Fire Island and other areas,” Gonzales tells Stop the Cap! “It is a repair option for our customers who have had continued and lingering difficulties with their copper-based telephone service.  It uses wireless technology which has proven to be resilient, and which millions of people use millions of times each day.”

[Update 4:25pm ET]

The New York Attorney General’s office has announced they have filed an Emergency Petition with the New York Public Service Commission to prohibit Verizon from “illegally installing” Voice Link service in direct violation of its tariff.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked the Commission to sanction Verizon for its actions detailed in this formal complaint:

The Attorney General’s Office has recently learned that Verizon intends to require customers outside of the Fire Island pilot area seeking to have their wireline service installed accept instead wireless Voice Link service, notwithstanding the Commission’s May 16 Order. According to reports by representatives of the Communications Workers of America, Verizon has delivered a pallet load of Voice Link devices to its Monticello Installation/Maintenance Center, and has instructed its technicians in that region to provide summer seasonal customers returning to Catskill vacation homes, who have long been received Verizon wireline service, only Voice Link service.

The union’s report is corroborated by two complaints of Verizon seasonal customers who have been told Voice Link will be installed instead of repairing their wire line telephone service. Only by firmly refusing Voice Link were both customers able to keep their wireline service.

Unlike Fire Island, wireline network damage from Superstorm Sandy cannot be used as an excuse for substituting Voice Link for wireline service in the Catskills, where the storm had limited impact. Instead, it appears that in the Catskills, Verizon has chosen to pursue the company’s business strategy in blatant disregard for the Commission’s Order.

The Commission’s May 16 Order could not have been clearer in limiting Verizon’s substitution of Voice Link for wire line service to western Fire Island, to enable evaluation of this unproven technology on a pilot basis.

Verizon’s provision of Voice Link outside the confines of western Fire Island is illegal, and its open defiance of the Commission’s May 16 Order must be met with effective sanctions.

[Update 4:33pm ET]

affidavit

[Article further updated at 5:17pm ET to include statement from Verizon Communications.]

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James Cieloha
James Cieloha
7 years ago

Every Verizon customer in rural Catskill Mountain in upstate New York should be ashamed of Verizon for choosing to abandoned wireline service in favor of the Voice Link wireless serivce in rural Catskill Mountain in upstate New York very severely. This is an excuse for Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo with Verizon wanting to try 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 Morris Levy’s when he was part of Roulette Records, the Clive Davis’s when he was at Columbia Records in… Read more »

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