After Hurricane Sandy, Verizon Takes Hostages

The disaster allows a phone company to provide inferior service at a higher cost

Nor does Maguire blanch at providing inferior service at a higher cost. "It's a closed community," he says. "It's the quintessential marketplace where you get to charge what the market will bear, so all the shops get to charge whatever they want." And that's exactly what Verizon is doing.

Before Sandy, islanders wanting Internet could get it packaged with their phone for about $59 a month. Today, residents say they pay upward of $200 for a slower, less reliable "hotspot" that is virtually unusable on the weekends, when the wireless network is throttled by tourists Instagramming their seashore vacations.

The Public Service Commission has received 421 comments on Verizon's request to discontinue landlines on Fire Island. While they are mostly complaints about Voice Link, a number of them come from people elsewhere in the state who worry they'll face the same fate.

Verizon is aggressively marketing Voice Link around New York. In addition to dozens of other buildings in Brooklyn and Queens, the company recently attempted to switch an 81-unit senior complex on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan to Voice Link. Building management balked when it found the service would preclude elderly residents' medical alert systems from working.

The Public Service Commission has yet to rule on whether Verizon can permanently replace landlines on Fire Island. But as far as Verizon is concerned, the verdict is already in.

The company began piloting Voice Link in several other states at the beginning of the year, and its bottom line has indeed improved. Its latest quarterly earnings are up 15 percent over last year—good enough news to propel the company's stock price to a 10-year high.

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11 comments
DavidSmithers
DavidSmithers

When I called Verizon to report the outage, what was supposed to be a technical call started off as a very aggressive pitch to upgrade to Fios fiber optic phone service, with the rep saying, "This isn't a sales pitch. Why would you not upgrade to a faster service for the same price?" I told them Fios will go down in a power outage and copper lines are 99% reliable by law and design, the rep said "well you also get a 8 hour power backup battery and if you live in an area with lots of power outages just get a generator." They also claimed the phone company isn't obligated to maintain the outside copper wires and eventually the whole infrastructure is going to deteriorate  from age. 

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

One might wonder if the NY State Public Service Commission is prone to favoring Verizon and the big telcos over We the People. The public service commissions in many states seem to have a habit of granting the requests/proposals of the big companies regardless of the impact to the citizens/consumers. Surely there is a way to increase the power of the cell tower on Fire Island and add an automatic backup generator for power failures.

SlightlyLost
SlightlyLost

People, you might as well get ready for this all across the country. The price to maintain individual copper wires to every home in America is incredibly large. It is not so bad in large urban areas where there are hundreds of users in a single building and hundreds of these buildings a few yards from each other. By law the phone companies were forced to provide service in rural areas at a huge loss because they were making money in the urban areas. As the urban areas convert to wireless service the whole model is turned upside down. If Fire Island had to pay 100% of the cost of it's copper land line phone service without subsidy from Manhattan, Brooklyn,  etc. the user would probably pay $300-400 per month per phone. This is why all of the phone companies are working to completely get rid of conventional copper wired phone service within the next five to ten years. They are losing more and more money on it as urban copper line service is being killed by wireless service. They are spending big $$$ in Washington for approval to pull the plug and of course they will get it. What you are experiencing on Fire Island will be spreading across the whole country in the next few years, rural areas first. You might as well learn to live in a completely wireless world because that is all you will have by about 2020. Fire Island should consider themselves as cutting edge early adaptors. Have you tried to find a good cheap blacksmith or saddle maker lately? Same concept.

ElleSturm
ElleSturm

What I don't understand is how Verizon is allowed to be the SOLE service provider for the entirety of Fire Island. I don't understand this as also I don't understand why and how Time Warner is allowed to be the sole cable provider for a large chunk of Manhattan. I know this may not be the place, but does anyone have any recent articles or sites that would explain how these monopolies are allowed to exist - particularly in such populous and um, outspoken, locations?

aliasetc
aliasetc topcommenter

Fire Island is primarily a gay island and everybody knows Verizon management is anti-gay

bgaby1
bgaby1

I am a year round resident of Fire Island and would like to thank you for reporting the facts as they are. I would like to add that even though the NYS Public Service Commission has given Verizon permission to trial Link on Fire Island, Verizon has now started cutting the wires on the poles into the homes that have installed Voice Link, thereby severing the customer's landline connection. What happens when/if the PSC makes the correct decision and bars Voice Link? Verizon is complaining that the cost of repairs is too high?! What a joke. They have ignored their infrastructure on FI for years and are hiding behind Sandy and the fact is they were just waiting for the opportune moment to put their plans into place. Now they are cementing this by actually cutting the wires into people's homes. Residents have begun documenting this with photos of the cut wires on the telephone poles. How much lower can Verizon sink? As for Tom Maquire's comment regarding paying with cash - remember what happened to Marie Antoinette when she said "let them eat cake". Unfortunately for us on Fire Island, the issue is compounded by the fact that there is absolutely no competitive alternative, something that the both the PSC and FCC must do something to correct. Gordon Gecko got it wrong greed is NOT good, especially when people's lives and livelihood depend upon reliable phone service.

SlightlyLost
SlightlyLost

@ElleSturm 

Think of it as 'federally mandated monopoly'. The entire country is divided into 'rate centers' and only one telco can install infrastructure and operate in each one. It is federal law. This is not some evil plot against a few flamboyant dialers in a few isolated areas. Do a little research on the breakup of the Bell system in the 1974-1982 period for the whole sad story. Cable services have a similar regulatory setup. So do gas and electric utilities. Congress did create a rather bizarre way to have 'competition' inside the telco monopoly. Only one company (the ILEC) can install equipment in the rate center. Competitors (CLEC's) can then lease service from the ILEC and try to resell it under their own name.

SlightlyLost
SlightlyLost

@aliasetc  Was it a gay island before people moved to it? Does it have peninsula envy? Does it lust after a sweet little bay? Does it feel that it faces an ocean of opposition? Are the tides against it? Is it a promiscuous island seeking any port in a storm?

SlightlyLost
SlightlyLost

@aliasetc 

Actually, Verizon is anti-island, not anti-gay. They love money, regardless of who spends it. They are losing massive amounts of money on all rural phone service and working as hard as they can to get out of that business. They are doing the exact same thing in rural areas all across the country, gay or straight.

hudson.pomd
hudson.pomd

@aliasetc Fire Island is a gay island? There are over twenty individual communities on Fire Island, two of which are gay. What are you talking about?

aliasetc
aliasetc topcommenter

That's the reputation of Fire Island

 
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