Verizon Responds To Freedom Of Information Request With Hundred Of Fully Redacted Pages

from the could-have-sworn-the-word-'information'-was-in-there-somewhere... dept

Verizon has learned plenty from its close relationship with government intelligence agencies. Its recent response to a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request in New York is almost completely composed of black ink. Full pages, three hundred of them, are redacted, with little more than headers and descriptions remaining.

As Elise Ackerman points out at Forbes, this might be a violation of the state's Freedom of Information law.

As the court ruled in a 1996 case known as Gould versus the New York City Police Department, the Freedom of Information Law imposes a broad duty on government to make records available. All government records are thus “presumptively open for public inspection” unless they fall into specific exemptions which must be “narrowly construed.”

The ruling continues: “In keeping with these settled principles, blanket exemptions for particular types of documents are inimical to the Freedom of Information Law’s policy of open government. Instead, to invoke one of the exemptions of section 87(2), the agency must articulate ‘particularized and specific justification’ for not disclosing requested documents.”
The documents are currently under review to see if the redacted information falls under protections governing trade secrets. It might. A large part of what's being sought here is information that many other telcos and wireless providers would find very interesting.
In September, a group of consumer advocates interceded in a proceeding Verizon had initiated with the New York Public Service Commission to shut down its traditional network, known as the “wireline” network. The advocates were interested in reviewing documents Verizon had filed with the commission about its wireline and wireless build-outs.

Under the state Freedom of Information Law, advocates requested that Verizon provide information about the actual costs and expenses associated with the repair, upkeep and maintenance of the traditional wireline network on the resort community of Fire Island. Among other things, advocates also wanted to know the location of any planned or active offering of Verizon’s wireless Voice Link service in other parts of New York.
Verizon has redacted almost everything requested. While its claims that this information would be extremely beneficial to its competitors are undoubtedly true, that's likely not the only motivation.

Ever since Hurricane Sandy, Verizon has been extremely reluctant to restore services to prior levels. Karl Bode at DSLreports has collected story after story detailing Verizon's efforts to dodge the demands of its paying customers.
Verizon has slowly been expanding the number of Sandy victims they're informing will never see their DSL lines repaired. Fire Island, New York residents who lost service during Sandy haven't had broadband service since last October, and only recently were told that these lines simply won't be repaired

Instead of power-outage-resilient copper voice and DSL lines, users are pushed toward Verizon's Voice Link, which offers voice service over Verizon's wireless network -- but no data connectivity of any kind.
Before capitulating in September and offering FIOS service on Fire Island (where the most service was lost), Verizon used the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy as an out to switch users to the wireless service it (along with AT&T) would rather be selling anyway -- one with both data and voice caps.

Understandably, New York residents would like to know just how much it's costing Verizon to roll out FIOS, as well as how much it's receiving in insurance payouts compared to the cost of restoring service to its previous levels. Unfortunately, it seriously looks as though these groups will never get the answers they're seeking.

But it's not just costs and insurance details that Verizon's redacting. It's also other, less sensitive, information.
Among other documents, Verizon claimed as a “trade secret” a list of Voice Link deployments, a Voice Link leader’s guide and a document about overcoming customers’ objections to Voice Link and responding to requests to return to copper.
While this may be proprietary information, there's nothing in those documents that couldn't be disseminated with a small amount of redaction. But Verizon is in no hurry to make this info public, considering it would reveal the same talking points it deployed against those behind the FOIL request.

Richard Brodsky, the lawyer representing the many groups seeking this information, claims the data requested is vital to verifying Verizon's statements concerning its decision to not repair existing copper lines.
“We believe that Verizon has substantially misstated the economic realities of both the wireline and the wireless service in order to make the wireline service seem economically damaged,” Brodsky said. “And we believe that the wireless service that they want to substitute does not give telephone consumers what they are legally required to get and what they expect.” Specifically, Brodsky said, Voice Link, which continues to be offered to customers in parts of New York and New Jersey, is voice-only, when many customers need both voice and data services.
That Verizon has a vested interest in pushing people to a service that's cheaper to build out and maintain won't have any bearing on the commission's consideration of its "trade secrets" claim. Unfortunately, in order to prevent FOI laws from becoming tools for corporations to acquire information from their rivals, the commission will probably have to side with Verizon. Verizon knows this and has been busy using the "trade secret" clause as leverage to press the state to allow it to provide even less information in response to requests than it already does.

As it stands now, Verizon will probably be able to walk away from this request with its "trade secrets" intact, much to the detriment of those who suspect the service provider is simply exploiting Hurricane Sandy to push preferred services on customers who have no choice in the matter. This allows the company to both maximize its profits by routing existing customers to a higher margin (and lower utility) service and drastically cut its outlays by allowing it to walk away from repairing damaged lines.











Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 9:46am

    Is there a transition from FOIA to FOIL?
    I visualize a Verizon spokesman in Snidely Whiplash duds saying "Curses, FOIL'd again."

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:17am

    This is a serious public safety issue

    (I spend part of my time training first responders.)

    Copper works like nothing else, and it works when everything else is down. I've made a call from the second story of a house with 8 feet of water on the first floor. I've trained people (in wilderness areas) to find a stream, find a road, find a copper line and follow it to the nearest cabin or farmhouse. It's the lifeline of last resort when the cell network is dead, the batteries are gone, and the satellite phone was lost in the fire.

    Lives depend on it.

    And Verizon, rather than spend the money necessary to replace what was lost in Sandy, is LYING to everyone -- their customers, the regulators, the state, the feds, everyone -- and one day, people are going to die because of those lies...because storms just like Sandy will come again.

    It won't be me, because I'm no longer in the front lines (most of the time). But one of the people I've trained, one of the VOLUNTEERS who drives into the teeth of a storm, who runs toward a fire, who jumps into raging waves, who puts their ass on their line for no reason other than they think it's the right thing to do, is going to die because a call won't go through...because Verizon won't put the copper back.

    I hope they sleep well at night thinking about that.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:17am

    If people want wireless phone service, they buy a cell phone! That's basically what Version is telling people to do.

    If Version won't repair the high speed internet in the area, then they should lose all franchise rights to that area, and a competitor such as Google Fiber should be allowed to service those customers.

     

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  4. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:31am

    Just move to 21st century wireless, you Luddites!

    Sheesh. Minion can't keep his anti-tech urges down; here he is maligning an oppressed corporation that just wants to move on from 19th century wires, and drag the unwilling clean through the 20th century to our new modern era.


    2nd point: it'd be really interesting and useful to know Google's "trade secrets", wouldn't it? After all, it keeps pushing me to give up all personal privacy for its monetary benefit, continues to track me without my permission, and as I learned yesterday, has some truly fiendish privacy invasion in its "Chrome" browser, no way to use it and avoid; they arrogantly claim mere use means that I gave total permission, to sell me to anyone, including gov't. So we should be able to know exactly what they have and what they do with it, right? Just like any other corporation. Where's the "transparency" from Google? We can't even learn the purpose of those barges from that mega-secret-spy-agency! -- And Verizon isn't the corporation that has several hundred K of tracking and bombarding code right here on Techdirt. By any measure, Google is by far more intrusive and controlling, yet never gets unfavorable mention here except when I wedge it into these otherwise dull pieces.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:42am

    Re: Just move to 21st century wireless, you Luddites!

    The level of hypocrisy here is just ludicrous. Verizon is a 'maligned' 'oppressed' corporation but not three lines later it would be 'interesting and useful to know google's trade secrets.'

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Monopoly

    Are cable companies in the United States still being granted legal monopolies by local governments?

    There needs to be more competition in the broadband market. I'm thinking we should require providers to share their data lines with competitors, for a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory fee.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:49am

    "Verizon used the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy as an out to switch users to the wireless service it (along with AT&T) would rather be selling anyway -- one with both data and voice caps."

    No problem, pass a law that they can't charge users more for how much data/etc they use in Internet providing, or that they can't charge more then what it actually costs them.

    That means that for example text messages, which get over a 10 million times multiplier markup (I'm not kidding, at least they used to get that kind of a markup, they've gone down lately) would be practically free.

    But of course congress would NEVER do that. It would be too consumer friendly and too anti-wall street and anti-big corporation.

     

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  8.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:59am

    We should do away with trade secrets

    Throughout history, few things have been as damaging to progress as the trade secret. Did you know that the earliest known samples of steelmaking date back to almost 1500 BC? But because greedy smiths kept the secret to themselves to try and cash in on the benefits of being one of the only ones to supply the local army with this miracle metal, when the smith died off the secret would be lost again. It wasn't until 19th century Britain when the cycle was broken: the patent system required the people who rediscovered steelmaking to publish their secrets, and the rest is history. Steel ended up fueling the Industrial Revolution, and laid the foundation for the modern age.

    In this one thing alone, trade secrets held back the progress of mankind by three thousand years. Who knows what else we've lost? It's long past time for the whole concept to die.

     

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  9.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Re: We should do away with trade secrets

    As you point out, getting rid of trade secrets is the primary purpose of the patent system. I'm assuming that you have some other solution in mind. What would that be?

     

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  10.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:22am

    Re: Re: We should do away with trade secrets

    Actually getting rid of Trade Secrets. As we can see--based on the simple fact that we have a patent system and yet legal recognition of and protection for Trade Secrets still exists--this has not happened yet.

     

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  11.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:42am

    Re: Re: Re: We should do away with trade secrets

    I agree that the specific rules about trade secrets should be gotten rid of -- but in the grand scheme of things, those laws aren't very egregious. Getting rid of those laws would not get rid of trade secrets, though. It wouldn't affect them at all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:44am

    Re: Just move to 21st century wireless, you Luddites!

    just wants to move on from 19th century wires, and drag the unwilling clean through the 20th century to our new modern era.


    Please. Wireless is inferior to wired in every way except one: mobility. Wired gives better sound quality, higher transfer speeds, and more reliable service.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:49am

    Re: Monopoly

    There needs to be more competition in the broadband market


    This. In my (metropolitan) area, if you want consumer broadband, you can choose between exactly two companies: your phone provider for DSL or your cable TV provider for cable. And they both treat you like crap. As the old joke about Ma Bell goes: "We don't care. We don't have to."

    I would love to see more competition. Or any competition.

     

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  14.  
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    Bengie, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:13pm

    Re: This is a serious public safety issue

    I'm going to sound like an a-hole, but if you got 8' of water on your first floor, you shouldn't be living there. That's part of the risk.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: This is a serious public safety issue

    Did you miss this part?

    (I spend part of my time training first responders.)

    Or maybe this part?

    ...one of the VOLUNTEERS who drives into the teeth of a storm, who runs toward a fire, who jumps into raging waves, who puts their ass on their line for no reason other than they think it's the right thing to do, is going to die because a call won't go through...because Verizon won't put the copper back.

    So yes, you absolutely look like an asshole who didn't read what he posted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:25pm

    I really wish someone would provide some kind of stimulus campaign for wireline networks. As another user pointed out, it's engineered for some of the best reliability and sound quality in a telecommunications network available.

    I can understand the frustration of providers that're losing customers to wireless providers, but it's also something that's irreplaceable right now, and nobody seems to show any interest in providing an equivalent to it. I just don't think it's going to survive being a "just for emergencies" network for when wireless isn't around, though.

     

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  17.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:55pm

    you know what frosts my flakes ? ? ?

    if these life-sucking fictitious entities called korporations *were* *REALLY* people (instead of SUPERIOR to them), the verizons, atts, sprints, cox cable, etc of the world, would be -rightfully and righteously- dragged out in the streets to a necktie party...

    dog damn, there isn't a korporation who gets bigger than a couple dozen people that isn't a piece of shit...

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:57pm

    How does the NYS FOIL Act apply to Verizon, which is not part of the NYS government?

     

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  19.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: We should do away with trade secrets

    It would affect them quite a bit, if companies no longer had the ability to use Trade Secret protection as a legal shield to hide from liability for their actions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: This is a serious public safety issue

    (original poster following up here)

    In a sense, you're right: living in a high-risk area isn't a good idea. But a heck of a lot of people do: go look at Sandy's track and calculate how many people live under it (or close enough that a slight wiggle would put them under it).

    And "high-risk area" is a relative term: Boulder, Colorado wasn't a particularly high-risk area for sustained massive flooding -- until it was. Neither was the MD-VA-WV tri-state region until last summer's derecho made it one. Neither was...well, fill in the blank with someplace clobbered by tornadoes or blizzards or wildfires or something else.

    When stuff like that happens, we have two choices: (1) stand around chiding the victims for their lack of foresight while we watch them die or (2) go get them. We choose (2) because we think it's the right choice. Usually it's pretty successful. Sometimes it's not.

    But one of the reason we're successful is that despite all of our GPS units and cell phones and other hi-tech gear, we all carry compasses, paper maps, lineman butt sets (look it up), lighters, and other low-tech gear that we can count on when everything else has failed. And the last communication link left standing -- usually -- is copper. That's what we go hunting for when we need to call for backup or transport, because we know that if ANYTHING is up, that'll be up. Say what you want about the old Ma Bell, but those engineers built to last, and every time we get a call through, we thank them for it.

    It's a lifeline. Sandy ripped it out. And Verizon is refusing to put it back. This concerns me greatly (obviously) not just because of this incident, but because I have no trouble imagining that if they get away this, they'll do it again. Why not? It's not their families and neighbors and friends who'll die.

     

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  21.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: We should do away with trade secrets

    What I meant was that it wouldn't stop them from keeping trade secrets. It would remove the extra perks that the law provides, but not the reason trade secrets are a thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    WulfTheSaxon (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 4:03pm

    Re: Monopoly

    There are no more legal monopolies. However, there’s so little profit in laying a second set of lines just to get half of a town’s customers that nobody bothers anyway.

    The FCC tried requiring ISPs to lease their lines at reasonable rates, but gave up when they realized how difficult it was to enforce.

    Personally, I think the solution may be to divest all the major ISPs of their lines (possibly allowing them to retain ownership of the spinoff via non-voting preferred stock or an equivalent structure).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: This is a serious public safety issue

    1. commend you for your service to the commonweal...

    2. as you relate, the 'unusual' weather patterns are part of the likely climate change predictions: it isn't simply we have the same weather/weather patterns as we've always had, only 3-4-5 degrees warmer; but major disturbances will inundate some areas and desertify others, rainfall patterns will be disrupted, if not destructive of agriculture, etc, etc, etc...

    there is no 'safe haven' any more...

    3. it might surprise you to learn, that wealthy people generally get the high and dry land, and poor people get the low-lying, flood-prone land... just coinkydink...

    4. notwithstanding reality, the poster does have a point that we do -in fact- overbuild on sensitive, ecologically important geography such as primary dunes along the coast...

    (again, generally rich people who are having beachfront property... of course, they have federally provided flood insurance that no one else in the world would provide, so they simply rebuild the next time a hurricane slides through...)

    those protective dunes, estuaries, fish breeding grounds, etc, should be protected from overuse and abuse, not bulldozed for beach cottages...

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  24.  
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    Ninja (profile), Nov 1st, 2013 @ 2:40am

    I'll go ahead and remind everybody of that awesome idea od duct taping 2 or 3 pages and fax it back to Verizon. Using the services from the competition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2013 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Just move to 21st century wireless, you Luddites!

    Alright, jackhole, riddle me this:

    I pay $15/month for copper.

    Wireless, at its cheapest, would cost me $40/month.

    I'm on a fixed income due to disability. Why would I pay that extra $25/month for the worse service and skip out on half a week's groceries?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    qka, Nov 3rd, 2013 @ 8:10pm

    Re: NYS FOIL

    Verizon's operations in the State of New York are regulated by the State Public Utilities Commission. The Commission approves their rate hikes, etc. So what Verizon does is monitored by the State. Thus these become governement records.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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