PA Judge Fines Verizon $3,750 For Leaving Elderly Couple Hanging Without Phone Service

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We’ll grant: landline telephones are not exactly the new hotness. Copper-wire service is, slowly, on its way out, and tends to be most preferred by older consumers. But just because millions of people have smartphones is no reason for any company to be jerks to senior citizens who do want to keep their legacy phone service, as Verizon is now paying for having done.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Verizon is on the hook for a $3,750 fine in Pennsylvania after confusing an elderly couple and letting their copper-wire phone service fail in order to force them into an upgrade.

Reportedly, the elderly couple went without phone service for five days in February, 2015 before repeatedly losing service again in the fall of 2015. For senior citizens with failing health, a phone outage can be a serious hardship. At one point, the two had to go next door to use a neighbor’s phone to arrange transportation to the emergency room.

These customers, however, did not take the service degradation lying down. Instead, they complained to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the entity that came back with the $3,750 fine.

The judge that handled the case admitted she couldn’t make Verizon operate service, but did find that the subscribers had been mistreated.

“Although, technically Verizon did not end [their] service, the company did so essentially,” the judge wrote. “Verizon issued and conveyed multiple and conflicting end dates” to the couple, which is no good.

The subscribers, who have since switched to AT&T wireless service, consider the ruling a victory — even though they know it’s essentially a meaningless one.

“The judge understood the bad treatment we got and did not allow Verizon to walk all over us,” the customer said to the Inquirer after the ruling, before noting that the sum was “potato chips to them” and admitting that Verizon “has teams of lawyers to do this stuff, and it costs nothing to them.”

This is not new behavior for Verizon. In 2015, it also threatened to disconnect customers in New Jersey and Virginia, and left one New York customer’s line in such poor repair that he lost service for three months until they could force him off copper-wire service.

Legacy-network operators, meanwhile, are indeed allowed to kill off their copper-wire service in favor of modern fiber-based systems, but there are rules about how. Customers must receive at least three months’ notice about the switch, so that they can’t be forced into a transition simply through their old service failing and not being repaired.

PUC judge fines Verizon $3,750 for mistreating elderly Delco couple [Philadelphia Inquirer]