Verizon Gets Earful

Customers Squawk Back Over DSL Service

The snow last Tuesday in Manhattan couldn't keep them away from the monster bash. Verizon was the monster in question, and about a hundred bashers—small internet service owners and other tech entrepreneurs, lawyers, politicos—came in from the cold to rail against Verizon's shortcomings in providing DSL service. They were also there to complain about the former Bell Atlantic's circumventing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which turned five years old that week. Happy anniversary, Baby Bell.

One after another, the techie guerrillas testified that the phone monopoly had botched DSL services on a massive scale for their businesses, and as a result New York's economy—and its citizens—were getting screwed.

Bruce Kushnick of New Networks Institute, who's spearheading the revolution, read off a list of Baby Bell promises (dating to 1994) of up to 7 million fiber-optic lines to be installed by 1999. Then he read from a February Verizon press release that claimed a different target, of just 500,000 lines, and crowed about beating that goal by some 40,000 customers. Moreover, he declared, the evidence is overwhelming that the company has frustrated competing DSL providers and ISPs with maddening delays, no-show installations, rejected orders, and downed lines. One attendee drew laughs when he showed up with 29 pages of notes logging his three-month-plus saga in getting one DSL line installed.


"Broadband is the software industry's lifeblood."


Kushnick referred to a New Networks Institute national survey showing that, among other outrages, 71 percent of ISPs have had orders lost and 53 percent report their customers were told they wouldn't have problems if they switched to a Baby Bell.

Verizon holds all the cards. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin's operator, "We can do anything. We're the phone company." Verizon owns all the copper phone wires that carry DSL. It sells DSL retail to people like you; by law, the company must also make the service available to competitors, wholesalers like Northpoint and Kovad, who in turn sell it to ISPs, who in turn sell it to you.

You can buy DSL directly from Verizon and, say these folks, get it installed relatively quickly. But if you want a souped-up product like SDSL—coveted by businesses because it uploads files as fast as it downloads them—Verizon doesn't sell it. You need to order it through a high-quality ISP, though Verizon still must install the physical wires at your place—a process the ISPs say is fraught with unconscionable delays. From this complicated supply stream, says Bway.net's director of marketing, Joe Plotkin, "ripples of harm" flow outward.

These are more than petty frustrations. "Broadband is the software industry's lifeblood," says entrepreneur Andrew Brust.

Dozens of New Yorkers have expressed interest in joining a suit, brought by lawyer Jason Solotaroff of Stamell & Schrage, demanding Verizon compensate customers for lost service. Others are content to indulge in gallows humor. Or you can be a cowboy like Brett Glass of Laramie, Wyoming, who boasted how his community started its own nonprofit wireless network.

Replicating Laramie's strategy in New York could be hard, but anyone can sign up to support the Broadband Bill of Rights. Kushnick and his group presented it first in this meeting, then the next day to legislators and media in Washington. The document says that despite the intent of the telecom act to encourage lower prices and more advanced service, "the dream . . . is still a mirage." It goes on to declare certain "inalienable rights" like choice, timeliness, availability, and "real broadband speed" as well as "enforcement and compensation."

Perhaps you have a DSL horror story of your own. Kushnick invites you to visit www.newnetworks.com/broadbandbill.htm, where you can become a signer of the new century's declaration of rights.

 
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