At the tail end of October, we brought you the story of Verizon's attempt to subvert New York's Freedom of Information Law by releasing hundreds of fully-redacted pages. Information on costs related to the buildout, repair and support of copper lines versus the inferior (and capped) replacement (Voice Link) Verizon was pushing was being sought by consumers who felt (understandably) that the company was overstating its claims in order to abandon copper line customers.
Verizon delivered page after fully-redacted page of "info" on costs, stating that revealing these "trade secrets" would give its competition an unfair advantage. While there is undoubtedly some truth to that claim, the fact is that the company had plenty of other reasons to keep the numbers hidden -- especially if it had been overstating the amount of money it would have to spend to restore copper service to areas knocked out by Hurricane Sandy.
Somewhat surprisingly, the New York Public Service Commission has sided with those seeking the information.
Last Wednesday, the New York Public Service Commission ordered Verizon to provide the public with un-redacted cost information about providing phone service on Fire Island, New York. The directive denied Verizon’s request to be exempt from disclosing cost documents…
Consumer advocates complained Verizon was simply hiding the fact they were looking to get rid of those users anyway in order to focus on more profitable wireless service, and that Sandy itself was a red herring. Verizon ultimately dropped the request amid protests and said FiOS would be run to Fire Island after all.
The commission addressed Verizon's "trade secret" claims with this statement
“The information claimed by Verizon to be trade secrets or confidential commercial information does not warrant an exception from disclosure and its request for continued protection from disclosure is denied,” it said in Monday’s ruling.
State officials wrote there “is no present or imminent contract award that could be impaired by the disclosure” and that the state Freedom of Information Law is based on a “premise that the public is vested with an inherent right to know and official secrecy is anathematic to our form of government.”
Verizon plans to appeal the decision, which means the cost data will still be locked up while that process is underway. This decision, while a win for those seeking to verify Verizon's "it costs too much" claims, could possibly be exploited by companies who may being seeking competitors' proprietary data via proxy FOI requests. The Commission will need to be wary of the unintended consequences it just set in motion.
As for Verizon's New York customers, they're still not entirely happy with Verizon's earlier capitulation, which saw the provider decide to run FIOS to Fire Island rather than force customers into a shoddy wireless service with voice and data caps. Even with FIOS, Verizon is still failing to provide reliable phone service, something they say the law requires it to provide. Unlike copper lines, FIOS may not work
during power outages.
Verizon (along with AT&T) has made little secret
of its desire to ditch copper lines and move its customers towards higher margin wireless services. If Verizon is ultimately forced to turn over cost data to the public, it could make for some very interesting reading.