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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Filed Under: broadband, competition, fiber, new jersey, pennsylvania, promises

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jun 2017 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

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