NJ Regulators: Verizon Landline Service Has “Systemic Problems,” Fixes Are “Haphazard”

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The state of Verizon landline service in New Jersey has been a sordid saga for several years now, with customers and mayors repeatedly claiming that the telecom behemoth is neglecting their needs. The latest act in this messy play now sees one state regulator all but begging another to do something already about the way Verizon leaves customers hanging with crappy service.

The New Jersey state Board of Public Utilities held a public hearing in August at which Verizon customers could sign up to speak about problems with their service. Hundreds showed up; the meeting ran several hours over schedule.

In response to that, Verizon sent a letter to the Board outlining its operations in southern New Jersey and mentioning what it planned to do better. However, another state agency, the Division of Rate Counsel, is less than impressed with Verizon’s attitude.

The Division of Rate Counsel is a New Jersey state agency specifically tasked with advocating for utility consumers (rate payers) in the Garden State. And it is pretty ticked off with how Verizon’s behaving, and submitted its own letter to the Board about the matter.

In its letter (PDF), the director of the Division of Rate Counsel lays out the case against Verizon.

“The testimony at the August 4 hearing was very detailed and consistent,” director Stephanie Brand writes. “The testimony, and the information that has been submitted by the petitioners in this case, demonstrate chronic conditions of poor service quality.”

After summarizing some of those quality issues, Brand continues, “While it is certainly an improvement that Verizon has specifically addressed the problems of many of the commenters that night, their actions are not sufficient to address the systemic problems in this area.”

“It is precisely this type of haphazard approach by Verizon that has resulted in the current, chronic state of disrepair and subpar telephone and DSL service that has plagued Verizon customers” in the region for years, Brand says.

She then calls out Verizon’s plans to upgrade the area as insufficient and confusing, and asks the Board to dig deep with any answers Verizon gives.

“The Board should conduct an investigation that goes beyond simply accepting Verizon’s representations,” she writes. “That has been the posture in the past and it ahs simply not worked. … Urgency should not cloud or preclude an effective review of Verizon’s proposed solutions to those service issues. The board must ensure that any plan that is put into effect is comprehensive, enforceable, and likely to succeed.

Specifically, Brand also wants the Board to find out: what does Verizon mean when it says it will deploy fiber cable “but not necessarily fiber-based service”? Why does Verizon only say it will reach 900 households in one specific town with a reason? Why can’t it upgrade all 17 towns that have petitioned, if it’s already upgrading northern New Jersey to fiber service as well?

Further, the letter continues, Verizon contends that competition is plentiful in the region, but consumer testimony does not bear that out. “This is clearly an area that needs further clarification for the Board,” Brand says.

“After years of chronic subpar telephone and DSL service, Southern New Jersey customers deserve nothing less than a comprehensive process that ensures compliance with the Board’s statutory obligations pertaining to safe and adequate utility service,” the letter concludes.

The next regularly scheduled hearing for the Board is on October 31, at which point it may decide what, if anything, to do next.

Further reading: Verizon in New Jersey

[via Ars Technica]

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