California-based consumer advocacy organization The Utility Reform Network (TURN) has formally accused Verizon of refusing to perform repairs on old landline telephone service in an effort to force some customers into adopting its Internet, VoIP and wireless phone services.
“TURN is requesting relief for customers who Verizon has cut off basic landline phone service and forced to purchase inferior internet service- in some cases without their knowledge or consent,” the group said in a statement last week. It also said that it filed an emergency motion filed at the California Public Utilities Commission last Monday.
“Verizon’s practice of allowing its copper network to deteriorate and then attempting to migrate basic telephone service customers to either FiOS or Voice Link without notice, explanation or choice is harmful to the public,” said TURN’s telecoms director Regina Costa.
The group says it is aware of customer complaints in several regions where Verizon is reportedly refusing to fix service that relies on old copper lines.
“Basic telephone service customers who are forcibly switched lose valued regulatory protections and service quality,” TURN’s statement added. “Verizon’s FiOS and Voice Link services rely on the power system and during lengthy power outages, phones—including access to 911 — will cease to operate when the customers’ batteries are depleted.”
Even one customer care representative working for Verizon has voiced concern about the company’s policies. “I have been trying to help a customer who has been out of service since January,” said Martina Ortega, a phone operator in Verizon’s copper repair center. She said her supervisor told her it would be “too expensive to repair and that the only customer’s only option would be Voice Link,” which is a wireless home service option from Verizon. The customer in question is supposedly still without service.
According to a statement given to Ars Technica by a Verizon spokesperson, however, the group’s claims are “blatantly false.” The carrier’s full statement follows below.
We have identified certain customers in fiber network areas who have had recurring repair issues over their copper-based service recently or clusters of customers in areas where we have had recurring copper-based infrastructure issues. Moving them to our all-fiber network will improve the reliability of their service. When these customers contact us with a repair request, we suggest fiber as a repair option. If the customer agrees, we move their service from our copper to our all-fiber network. There is no charge for this work, and customers will pay the same rate for their service. Most customers recognize and appreciate the increased reliability of fiber and gladly agree to the move to fiber. Few customers across our service area have chosen to stay with copper and, once on fiber, few ask to return to copper… Nobody is forced to take our services, nor are customers given new services without consent or knowledge.
As Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin notes, Verizon’s statement does not clarify how its policy covers customers who refuse to switch from copper-based service, or who want to move back to copper after switching to fiber.
UPDATE: Verizon confirmed to Ars Technica that customers can be switched back to copper.