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.

USACE/flickr
Verizon VP Tom Maguire says it’s too expensive to repair Fire Island’s landlines, but residents say Voice Link service is spotty and unreliable.
Verizon VP Tom Maguire says it’s too expensive to repair Fire Island’s landlines, but residents say Voice Link service is spotty and unreliable.

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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