Verizon Gets A Wrist Slap For Years Of Neglecting Its Broadband Networks In New Jersey And Pennsylvania

from the I-get-200-kbps-when-it-rains dept

For much of the last decade we’ve noted that Verizon received billions in tax breaks and subsidies for fiber optic networks that were only partially deployed. From New Jersey to Pennsylvania, from New York City to Philadelphia, newswires the last few years have been filled with complaints from consumers and governments who say the company didn’t finish the job it was handsomely paid to complete, leaving a patchwork of spotty next-gen broadband availability, and entire cities filled with customers still paying an arm and a leg for circa 2002 DSL speeds.

And the problem isn’t just that Verizon didn’t upgrade its networks, it’s that the company has been neglecting the aging DSL network equipment already in place. In 2015, for example, frustrated Verizon union employees submitted a complaint to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission highlighting just what Verizon’s network hardware currently looks like in many parts of a state that was supposed to have been upgraded to fiber years ago:

The same can be said for a wide variety of instances where Verizon couldn’t really be bothered to work particularly hard at utility pole repair:

Given Verizon’s political stranglehold over federal and local regulators and legislators, efforts to hold the company accountable on this front have been decidedly mixed. The company has often added insult to injury by insisting these complaints are either “pure nonsense,” or at times by trying to claim that people who would like their phone and DSL lines to be upgraded (or hey, to simply work) are just being archaic Luddites because they refuse to sign up for significantly more expensive wireless service that in many areas may not be available anyway:

“This is a classic example of how some people fear new technology so they reactively reject it instead of accepting it, no matter how irrational that fear may be,” Gierczynski said. Verizon opponents believe it plans to offer non-FiOS neighborhoods what they said is inferior wireless or Voice Link services once the firm’s aging, deteriorating copper wire lines stop working altogether.

“I think people are going to look back and laugh (at copper landline proponents) … just like (those) who were part of the Anti-Digit Dialing League,” he added, referring to people who resisted the seven-digit phone numbers that began in the late 1950s.

Yes, hilarious. The goal for both AT&T and Verizon over the last few years has been to effectively let these unwanted DSL customers rot on the vine, until company lobbyists can convince state regulators to purge regulations requiring they continue to serve these users, many of which are elderly. This has been done (as evident above) by suggesting that killing off fixed-line DSL networks and shoving these users to wireless is all part of a miraculous “IP transition” that will deliver untold, amazing technological advancements to local communities.

Complications arise from the fact that wireless (especially in rural areas) isn’t yet a viable alternative to fixed lines. Many of these lines were also taxpayer subsidized, and are still very much in use. Not to mention the fact that Verizon took billions more from these communities to deliver fiber upgrades never delivered. That said, there has been some modest traction in recent weeks after Verizon was forced by Pennsylvania regulators to at least repair some of the worst parts of its neglected network:

“The telecom giant will repair the worst of its legacy copper network in areas without FiOS and replace 15,000 unsightly and dangerous ?double poles? on Pennsylvania roadsides, according to the deal between the company and the company?s Pennsylvania unionized workers who are part of the Communications Workers of America.”

The agreement falls well short of requiring Verizon to admit fault of any kind, or forcing Verizon to upgrade these networks to fiber as per a 1993 agreement with the state — that critics say was supposed to result in uniform fiber coverage statewide. But Verizon has also been forced to strike a similar deal by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, who found that, again, Verizon neglected its fixed-line networks to an almost comical degree. It won’t, however, be forced to upgrade the state to fiber:

“But the telecom giant won?t be wiring a wide swath of Cumberland, Burlington, Salem, and Atlantic Counties with the high-speed Fios service that has been extended to millions of residents in other parts of New Jersey, according to a settlement among state officials, Verizon, and 17 towns that complained about substandard phone service. Fios is Verizon?s branded service for internet, television, and voice services, delivered over fiber lines.

In late 2015, the 17 towns, mostly in Cumberland County, complained to the state Board of Public Utilities about downed phones and bad or no internet. Service has been particularly unreliable on rainy or damp days, which result in buzzing water-soaked copper phone lines because of their age and rundown condition, local residents and officials say.”

These are important wins, but in full context they’re a drop in the bucket. Time, and time, and time again communities have tried to hold the telco accountable for taking taxpayer funds, then failing to upgrade essential infrastructure. Verizon’s attentions meanwhile are elsewhere. The company recently acquired AOL and Yahoo in the hope of pivoting from neglecting running fixed-line networks to becoming a major media and advertising competitor to Google and Facebook (success on that front has been decidedly mixed).

It’s abundantly clear that Verizon executives are done with these communities, but these communities also have made it abundantly clear (as New York City’s recent lawsuit against the telco will attest) — they’re not quite yet done with Verizon.

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Comments on “Verizon Gets A Wrist Slap For Years Of Neglecting Its Broadband Networks In New Jersey And Pennsylvania”

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28 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

If only

It’s abundantly clear that Verizon executives are done with these communities, but these communities also have made it abundantly clear (as New York City’s recent lawsuit against the telco will attest) — they’re not quite yet done with Verizon.

I imagine Verizon is only ‘done with’ the communities as far as offering them the service they lied and claimed they would, caring only to push them into more expensive service instead. However, if the communities involved were to have the audacity to try to throw together their own broadband service, I imagine Verizon would suddenly become very interested indeed, primarily in efforts to kill off the possible competition.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: If only

“However, if the communities involved were to have the audacity to try to throw together their own broadband service, I imagine Verizon would suddenly become very interested indeed, primarily in efforts to kill off the possible competition.”

Given the numerous stories about them being involved in attempts to kill off municipal broadband projects already, that’s hardly a hypothetical.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: If only

“I wonder how they got that power”

Which power? The power to lobby for favourable laws? That would be your broken government and legal systems that places too much power in the hands of those with money over those who don’t. Civilised systems have the government act effectively as checks against corporations with the needs of citizens in mind. Monopoly doesn’t have much to do with it, other than the fact that those with money get to lobby for rules in their favour.

Let me guess, you’re going to try to claim that if we just hand these corporations the power they want without having to indulge in paying off the government, then all the ills of the industry will magically be healed?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 If only

“Well, you guessed wrong. But don’t let me correct ya”

You’re being unclear at what you’re getting at, so you won’t clarify when I guessed what you were blathering on about wrong?

Does it make you feel better to be such a dishonest ass, or is this some pathological thing you can’t help doing?

“You keep running to a higher threat to spare you from a lesser threat.”

So, what’s your low risk way of getting corporations to not screw their customer base without public external checks and balances? No, the free market won’t magically do this, what’s your actual solution that’s workable in the real world?

Come on, be honest for once! Debate facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If only

I am that guy but Joseph is NOT my hero in the least.

That said, even a fool can utter wisdom. I follow the truth, even if it came from the mouth of a liar. The problem with most of you is that you first decide if a person is worth listening to then take their words as gospel until those words offend your “confirmation bias”.

I listen to all people and consider the value of their words instead of the value of their person. It’s the reason why you pro regulation zealots are losing the fight. You all decided that the FCC needed this power and seem surprised that it has now been turned against you. You only have decades of history warning you what would happen but you still didn’t get it.

An idiot does not learn from their own mistakes. This would be people that support regulation.
A normal person learns from their own mistakes. This would be people that ask for regulation see what happened and then ask for regulation to be scaled back or sunset.
A wise person learns from others mistakes. This would be the people that support free market principles while only allowing regulation in very specific and narrow cases.

Regulation directly REMOVES your say. What wise person would want that? I do know a lot of stupid people that think they can escape the very fate they are working to bring about. I also know a lot of normal but lazy people too. They know regulation is a scam, but they are too lazy to fight against it and just accept this.

Everything that is happening with net neutrality right now is everything you deserve and more, because you worked to bring it about and even worse still you don’t even understand the how or why. And you call me the idiot despite the fact that I warned you “idiots” that this would come about as a result of Wheeler’s actions quite some time ago. Heck the FCC is the entity you should hate the most but you don’t know how to break away from your Stockholm’s syndrome when it comes to regulation.

You guys are just a bunch of suckers that ignorantly believe that some politician in a suit gives a shit about you. They just tell you shit you want to hear and then give you just enough to make you think they are on your side while while talking you over a barrel. It’s pretty sad actually.

I Love Capitalism says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If only

It’s called "crony capitalism," and it gives real, competitive, capitalism a bad name among the uninformed.

Capitalism is capitalism. Losers like to pretend that it isn’t as an excuse for being losers. Any so-called capitalist that doesn’t use every legal advantage is no true capitalist.

Discuss It (profile) says:

Re: If only

Oh, it’s not just a publicly funded and run internet they kill off, they’ll happily strangle in the crib any CLEC co-op set up even if it is non-government. Even getting a SBA loan to purchase the equipment is shouted down as a government action, and it’s all of them, not just Verizon.

About the only thing they can’t stop easily right now is microwave links. That, they have a lot of trouble with. But there are a lot of drawbacks to microwave links, starting with trees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile, headline on Drudge: AMAZONFACEBOOKGOOGLE HAVE 'CAPTURED THE ECONOMY'...

This may be “tech” and may be “dirt”, but is neither important nor interesting.

Techdirt is the most wacky site I’ve run across, for sheer lack of proportion. Useful to me for diversion from the real world.

I do hope this unique irrelevance isn’t handed over in the looming settlement with Ayyadurai.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Ugh - give me hard-wired systems any day

"This is a classic example of how some people fear new technology so they reactively reject it instead of accepting it, no matter how irrational that fear may be,"

When WiFi became a thing, I went out and got a WiFi router and WiFi adapters for every system in the house. I setup the router, setup the security, added all my WiFi devices into MAC white-lists, and made sure each computer could connect regardless of OS. So what did my little experiment yield? A deep abiding hatred of wireless. After a few months, I got several hundred feet of CAT6 ethernet cable and wired up the house. I currently use T100 routers, with an eye toward gigabit routers once the price drop a bit more… and I’ve never been happier! The only problems I’ve had are when Century Link can’t keep their end of things running. I’ve seen this in many of the places I’ve worked, as well: a good wired system beats wireless hand down. The promise of wireless is their, but it can’t (yet) keep that promise. Give them another couple decades to work out most of the bugs.

ECA (profile) says:

JUST MY OPINION...

I live in the country, and Competition is NOT very high.
The Cable corps run lines/signals to Each of the Small towns, and we get Internet..
PART of this is fun, as we live along the Freeway, and the Gov has PUSHED/PAID for the WHOLE freeway to be covered with signal coverage for Cellphones. And a great way to get 1 Fiber line to Cover LARGE areas..From Cellphones/DSL/CABLE/Home phones..

Along time ago MOST of the major metro installed MOST of the Aux lines underground and IN PIPES, so that digging things up isnt that hard. You dont have to.
And with a CLOSED CORP SYSTEM, and no competition, and 1 corp SUPPLYING EVERYTHING… They couild move out, and SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING…
Does your city want that?? ALL phone system services SHUT DOWN..
YOU HANDED THEM THE KEYS..and they are in charge of driving the car.. How many services will be Impacted, if they Shut it all down, and HOW will you Take over the services..
Many corps run things ABIT strangely..Just so things are complicated enough, with PATCH WORK in the main servers, and hardware that would make a PUZZLE PERSON go nuts trying to figure out..
HOW short sighted can CITIES AND STATES BE???

Anonymous Coward says:

Why no story about fixed telphone cord cutters? Less than 46% of American homes have a landline phone yet you seem to expect them to maintain the networks as if they had the near 100% they had a decade ago.

As for public money remember that equipment has a life span. It is amortized over a period of time and when it reaches the end of its service life it can fail at any time. Forcing landline companies to keep offering all services to all people in a massively declined market doesn’t seem reasonable.

After all you seem to think csble companies should pack it in with way kess cord cutting.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

WHAT wolf said..

BUT ALSO..
ALL basic infrastructure MUST BE MAINTAINED..for a few reasons.
If something Stupid happens and Cellphones dont work, and the internet servers GO OUT..

Then there is a REAL HARD FACT…
the INTERNET has/will ALWAYS be based on the Original backbone..WHICH IS THE PHONE SYSTEM..
Or are you to young to know this??

1 other FACT..
US Gov has PAID for the City to city connection ALL be upgraded and TOLD STATES that all line from the last mile, MUST be FIBER… and that should have been finished 2-6 years ago??

fazookus (user link) says:

I was a victim of Verizon's DSL (happy ending)

I had Verizon’s DSL since they were Bell Atlantic and it was amazingly reliable and consistent, at four megs for the original hookup and then thirteen when they upgraded to “DSL 2” (or whatever).

Up until about a year and a half ago, that is, it became unreliable and speeds dropped by a third when it was working.

And, they couldn’t be bothered to fix it, they just said ‘best effort’, end of story.

And I live right in the middle of Manhattan Island, right in the middle of New York City.

So they the fibered us up early this year, and that’s been great and I got excessive 150 meg service just so I could giggle watching those speed indicators zoom around.

And they recently announced they were retiring all the copper, people who didn’t sign up for fiber are now getting it unless they go VOIP with cable.

I VOIPed, just out of principle, hello CallCentric.

No moral to this story, it’s just a story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just a thought but what if a lobbying group got together and managed to get a law on the books that basicially said that if a companies infrastructure is on public land and they fail to maintain it, then it will be confiscated and sold at auction? if companies aren’t careful then they inadvertantly build their own competions networks.

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