Verizon Accused Of Deliberately Neglecting Landline Service To Push Customers To FiOS

It’s no secret that companies like AT&T and Verizon look at their aging copper landline networks as expensive dinosaurs of a pre-Internet age. But one advocacy group alleges that Verizon has allowed its copper lines to fall into disrepair in the hopes of pushing landline customers to Internet-based phone service.

In an emergency petition [PDF] filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, a group called The Utility Reform Network (TURN) claims that “Verizon is engaging in business practices that are contrary to its statutory obligation to provide adequate service and are harmful to the interests of its California customers.”

More precisely TURN alleges that Verizon is “deliberately neglecting the repair and maintenance of its copper network with the explicit goal of migrating basic telephone service customers who experience service problems,” and is asking CPUC to “order Verizon to repair the service of copper-based landline telephone customers who have requested repair or wish to retain the copper services they were cut off of.”

The petition states that when landline customers request repair service, Verizon is sometimes migrating them from its copper wire network to other Verizon Internet-based services, whether it’s VoIP phone service via FiOS or the wireless Voice Link, which the company tried to push on some areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. TURN claims that there have been instances in which customers were migrated to the new services without their knowledge.

TURN also says that Verizon is not making customers aware of the potential shortcomings of Internet-based services, most importantly the fact that VoIP service will not last long during a prolonged power outage.

According to the petition, when a standard customer makes two service calls for outside repairs within a 6-month period, they are labeled a “chronic customer,” and that “it is Verizon’s goal to migrate ‘chronic customers’ to Voice Link, in lieu of maintaining and repairing copper plant.”

When reached for comment by Ars Technica, a rep for Verizon said the claims in the TURN petition are “blatantly false.”

“We have identified certain customers in fiber network areas who have had recurring repair issues over their copper-based service recently or clusters of customers in areas where we have had recurring copper-based infrastructure issues,” the rep told Ars. “Moving them to our all-fiber network will improve the reliability of their service. When these customers contact us with a repair request, we suggest fiber as a repair option. If the customer agrees, we move their service from our copper to our all-fiber network. There is no charge for this work, and customers will pay the same rate for their service. Most customers recognize and appreciate the increased reliability of fiber and gladly agree to the move to fiber. Few customers across our service area have chosen to stay with copper and, once on fiber, few ask to return to copper… Nobody is forced to take our services, nor are customers given new services without consent or knowledge.”

But Ars points to the recent testimony by a Verizon employee at a public hearing before the California Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee to show that the company may not be giving consumers the option of retaining their current copper landline service.

“I have been trying to help a customer who has been out of service since January,” said the employee, who testified that she brought the matter to a supervisor who then told her “it would be too expensive to repair and that the only customer’s only option would be Voice Link… To this date the customer has been out of service.”

Furthermore, she says Verizon’s policy is for employees to not tell customers that they can take their complaints to CPUC.

In the TURN petition, customers complain that they are told the only way to get timely phone repairs is to switch to FiOS.

“Verizon is threatening that if we don’t switch over to digital and get rid of copper that their response time for fixing any phone problems will go from one to two days to two weeks,” says one customer.

The FCC recently decided to allow telephone companies to begin voluntary tests of replacing existing landlines with VoIP service, but only in limited, approved areas. It will take some time, potentially years, before these tests are sufficient to placate regulators.

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