Union: Verizon pushes Voice Link in NYC as it neglects traditional phone network

 

Verizon’s controversial Voice Link service — which the company touts as a replacement for copper wire in parts of Sandy-struck Fire Island and the Catskills — is being pushed to some customers in New York City where the company no longer wants to bother providing traditional phone service, its union charges.

Verizon has performed “a few dozen” Voice Link installations in the city, and tried in mid-May to “force” a building on the Lower East Side with 81 units occupied by senior citizens to take the service, the Communications Workers of America alleges in a filing July 2 with the state Public Service Commission.

Many of the seniors in the Lower East Side building, at 308 East 8th St., depend on medical alert services that do not work over Voice Link, which is incapable of handling anything other than voice service, papers filed with the PSC say. Finally, after building management complained, Verizon agreed to fix the building’s broken-down copper wire service.

Verizon says the union’s account of what happened at 308 East 8th Street is “inaccurate and misleading,” and claims its offer of Voice Link service in the building, which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, was a temporary measure until it could restore regular service. Verizon says it offered Voice Link to the building without charge until it finished repairs in June. “Voice Link provided an option to customers who otherwise would have had no service alternatives from Verizon,” the company says.

But in a July 3 filing with the Public Service Commission, Verizon did not address the union’s report about other Voice Link installations in the city. And unaddressed in the controversy is why Verizon is offering anyone in New York City or anywhere else a second-rate service like Voice Link, which is incapable of handling anything other than voice phone calls. Voice Link customers can’t use the service to send faxes, run burglar alarm or medical alert systems, or access the Internet.

The CWA has joined New York’s attorney general, AARP and other organizations in opposing Verizon’s push to replace traditional copper-wire service knocked out by Hurricane Sandy last year with Voice Link, which the union says uses cellular network technology that Verizon admits is obsolete.

Voice Link is encountering strong opposition in western Fire Island and upstate in the Catskills, where Verizon is trying to offer the service as an alternative to traditional copper wire service knocked out by Sandy. Verizon’s CEO is on record as saying he’d like to see the company replace its traditional copper-wire phone service with Internet and data-oriented products.

The union charges that in its push, Verizon is deliberately neglecting maintenance of its copper-wire service — even in Manhattan.

“During Superstorm Sandy, various cables in lower Manhattan failed when the conduits where they were located became flooded and water entered cables,” the CWA says in its filing. “A standard industry practice for protecting cables from water damage is to use air pressure to keep water from entering the surrounding conduit. However, according to a technician with 22 years’ experience, Verizon has made severe cuts in the work force responsible for monitoring and repairing the problems with air pressurization. As a result, storm-related damage to wires continues to increase.”

The union makes several other points about Verizon service in New York City in its petition. It says cutting back copper wire service also means cutting back DSL, which in some places is the only competition for cable company Internet service. That’s especially a problem given the slow rollout of Verizon’s FiOS service, which is supposed to compete with the cable companies.

Voice Link has other issues that state regulators need to consider, its opponents say. One is that its backup battery only supports 2 1/2 hours of talk and 36 hours of standby power. Many New Yorkers who lost power for a week or longer during Sandy would have soon found Voice Link boxes useless. And AARP notes that Voice Link doesn’t support collect calls or “0” access to an operator — “a key point of contact and information for older consumers.”

The PSC is extending the public comment period in the Voice Link case to Sept. 13. You can find the PSC’s file on the topic here.

 

About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch.com and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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