Verizon trying to make Sullivan all wireless?
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO July 2, 2013 Sullivan County is sharing the spotlight with Fire Island over a controversial new offering from Verizon that has the potential to dramatically reshape local phone service.
According to a New York Times report, Verizon workers noticed a pallet of Voice Link equipment being delivered to a Verizon facility in Monticello in June.
Voice Link is a new system the phone company is rolling out that has the potential to one day replace what it calls “plain old telephone service” or POTS.
It’s basically a wireless modem which uses a cell signal to allow normal home phones to make and receive calls on the cellular network. The only wires going into and out of the modem are to and from the phones in the house, completely bypassing the phone wires leading out of the house and to the pole.
Verizon’s lineworkers un-ion, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), has been keeping a close eye on the technology, as it has the potential to replace hardwired landlines and thus put many of the lineworkers out of work.
After seeing the delivery of Voice Link equipment to Monticello, CWA apparently contacted the state Attorney Generals’ Office, which on June 26 sent the phone companies’ regulating agency, the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC), an emergency petition requesting an immediate order preventing Verizon from further rolling out the service.
The AG’s Office cited a PSC order from May that halted Verizon’s efforts to install a similar system in Long Island’s Fire Island community, where Superstorm Sandy had thoroughly wrecked the wired POTS.
But Verizon fired back on Friday, arguing that the PSC order only applied to communities in New York where Voice Link would be the sole alternative, as in Fire Island. Verizon said that in Monticello and elsewhere, it’s marketing Voice Link as an optional service.
An affidavit accompanying the AG’s June 26 filing sheds light on what Verizon is attempting to do locally namely, test out this new wireless home phone system on users who typically disconnect their phones for the winter or otherwise need repair services.
A summer resident of a Monticello bungalow colony, Joshua Michaeli, told the AG’s Office that when he reopened his bungalow for the season on June 18, the phone system was inoperative.
When he called Verizon, he was offered Voice Link instead of a normal landline repair. When he declined, he was transferred to the repair department, where he was again offered Voice Link and again declined. His landline system was repaired later that day.
The AG’s Office attempted to frame that incident as Verizon illegally expanding Voice Link, but Verizon, in its reply to the PSC, pointed out that (a) offering an optional service is not illegal, and (b) the landline repair was made promptly and effectively.
Still, past media reports indicate Verizon is eager to move away from its expensive landline system and focus on its wireless offerings. Indeed, it has applied to the PSC to do just that: discontinue wired services in favor of Voice Link or a comparable technology.
The PSC is reviewing the request and has extended its public comment period from July 2 to September 13.
Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic, a former Verizon employee himself, believes that Verizon is aiming to transition as many people as it can to wireless.
“Verizon is introducing that technology in seasonal communities,” he observed, “so the company doesn’t have to fix the wires.”
While he doesn’t want to see lineworkers lose their jobs, Martinkovic noted cell technology is likely to affect landlines the way it did pay phones, which are hard to find these days.
The current Voice Link technology does not support home security, health alert or fax machine systems, but it is compatible with E-911, he added. That could add to an already-growing trend with cellphones.
“Our wireless 911 calls are increasing,” Martinkovic noted. “We’re up over 60 percent right now for the whole year.”
More info on the Monticello/Fire Island issue is available at www.dps.ny.gov. Search for Case 13-C-0197.