As I've been covering in detail
, Verizon has been going around telling many Sandy victims who have been waiting almost eight months for DSL repair -- that repairs will never happen. In its place, Verizon is giving those users "Voice Link," a service that lets users connect home phones to the Verizon Wireless network. The problem? Voice Link is no replacement for DSL: it's buggy, it lacks many features (like named callerID), doesn't include data service, and actually is less reliable than many POTS lines during a storm. It's simply not an even exchange.
The severing of unwanted copper-fed regions of their networks (and gutting the regulations governing them) is a massive, nationwide effort
by both AT&T and Verizon, who don't want to upgrade lines -- but instead focus on more profitable wireless service. The impact of this shift will be massive
, not only severing fixed-line connectivity at a time we profess to be interested in lessening coverage gaps, but by driving up prices by strengthening cable's monopoly over fixed-line broadband.
The migration requires a real conversation -- one we're not having.
While the FCC did state they'd be looking into a pilot program to explore the impact
of severing DSL and POTS and replacing it with more expensive wireless, privately the agency is telling Sandy victims who call in to complain about Voice Link that there's nothing wrong with what Verizon is doing and that they won't help consumers. That recently annoyed consumer advocate Harold Feld of Public Knowledge
, who notes the FCC needs to get its act together, and soon:
...the fact that FCC line staff are taking it upon themselves to say this is totally O.K. shows just how badly the FCC has lost control of the situation. The FCC needs to move quickly to (a) make Verizon file the necessary application under federal law to discontinue its traditional copper service so the FCC can actually decide this question for real; and, (b) develop a process for carriers in areas where disasters have destroyed copper infrastructure to replace that infrastructure with a new product like Voice Link or voice-over-IP (VOIP). Otherwise, we can forget about having any kind of useful pilot program where we protect consumers and gather information. Carriers will take the Verizon approach, and convert natural disasters into "nature’s little laboratories."
As you might expect, Verizon doesn't much see the problem with pulling DSL and POTS from communities and replacing it with a sub-par, less reliable, and ultimately more expensive service. The company claims that these areas just make no sense to repair, even though Comcast (who not coincidentally wants
to remain in the fixed-line broadband business and just struck a co-marketing arrangement with Verizon) has spent a ton doing just that
In a blog post
by Verizon's Tom McGuire, Verizon half-heartedly responds to concerns about what they've been up to...by simply re-iterating how sad and devastating Sandy was and how amazing this replacement Voice Link service is:
In addition to unlimited nationwide calling, Verizon Voice Link also offers key features like Call Waiting, Call Forwarding (includes no answer/busy transfer), 3-Way Calling, Voice Mail (*86), 411, Caller ID (with Return Call *69), and Caller ID Block. More importantly Verizon Voice Link offers the same E911 capabilities as traditional wireline service. All of this is offered at a price no higher than what customers were paying for their wireline service.
Our decision to deploy this innovative solution has been well communicated...
-Verizon, responding to confused users who have suddenly been told eight months after Sandy that their DSL lines will never be repaired.
Well, no. Again, Voice Link doesn't provide data service, so users will need another
Verizon Wireless account just to get heavily capped and pricey data service. Claims of reliability are also dubious, given towers are similarly taken out by regional power outages during storms, where often POTS continues to function. This is all an elaborate song and dance on Verizon's part, and the company, as you might expect, sees absolutely zero culpability for any wrong doing on their part:
Our decision to deploy this innovative solution has been well communicated both through these meetings as well as in the media. In addition, as part of our ongoing communications with the Federal Communications Commission, we have been working with the FCC for some time on filing the appropriate discontinuance filings and other notices for the affected services.
It was so "well communicated," customers spent eight months waiting for their DSL lines to be repaired. And as Feld notes, while Verizon pays lip service to "filing the appropriate discontinuance filings," that hasn't happened nearly eight months after the fact. Again, Sandy is only a cover for what is going on nationally: AT&T and Verizon are backing away from unwanted DSL users and going state by state to gut regulations and consumer protections that currently make that market exit difficult. In NY, NJ and PA that has proven more difficult than Verizon anticipated
, which is why Verizon keeps using Sandy as a form of misdirection.
It's important to note that Verizon is intentionally driving many DSL users to cable
using the hurricane in some areas and rate hikes in others, and hopes nobody notices the uncompetitive stink rising from this aspect of their recent arrangement with the cable industry
. Fortunately for Verizon, despite the fact this entire transition is the biggest telecom has seen in thirty years and will impact tens-of-millions of broadband users, the technology press has been too bored by this story to cover it.
As a result, in ten years people will suddenly wonder why their only fixed-line broadband option across huge swaths of the country is extremely over-priced cable service, and why nobody tried to do anything about it.