By Brenda Flanagan
Mantoloking resident Christine Wilder’s 85, and she’s asked Verizon to restore her old landline phone service. Why?
“Because I never had trouble when the electricity went out. Always the phone was available,” she said.
When Superstorm Sandy infamously ravaged the barrier island’s infrastructure, it knocked out Verizon’s land lines. But instead of restoring the old copper wires as many residents requested, the giant telecom company’s pushing Voice Link, a new, wireless phone service. Wilder’s dismayed.
“I just felt abandoned by the phone service,” she said.
Bob Post also asked Verizon to restore his landline phone.
“I have a pacemaker. It has to be checked once a month via the phone, and they were unable to accommodate that with their new Voice Link service,” he said.
Verizon’s Lee Gierczynski says Voice Link’s superior to copper wire, which corrodes in salt water. He also notes Mantoloking’s a seasonal community with about 1,000 households — only half of which had Verizon landlines before Sandy. And, he says, Verizon’s study showed, residents had used wireless communications like cell phones far more than they used landlines.
“We determined Voice Link was going to be the ideal solution on a go-forward basis to provide reliable voice service for these customers in that area,” Gierczynski said.
But AARP’s Jeff Abramo reports he’s gotten complaints about Voice Link and calls it, “a second-rate, inferior technological product. They say it’s power-dependent. When the power goes down, it doesn’t work. They’re telling us that it’s not compatible with internet, it’s not compatible with home security, it’s not compatible with their medical monitoring system.”
Landline phone companies like Verizon are a regulated industry. They are legally obligated to provide a line at a reasonable cost, to anyone who wants one. And to end service, they need to get federal and state approval.
“They have an obligation to serve anybody who says, ‘I just want telephone service,'” said Stefanie Brand.
Brand runs New Jersey’s Division of the Rate Counsel, a state agency charged with ensuring utilities treat their customers fairly and obey the law. She strongly objects to Verizon’s tactics here.
“They’re trying to push people out. They’re trying to push them to Comcast, they’re trying to push them to Voice Link. But the fact is, they have an obligation to serve these people and they need to meet that obligation,” said Brand.
In fact, she notes, Verizon did accommodate requests from first responders in the Mantoloking, Bay Head and Brick area and restored landlines to police and fire departments there. But not residents.
“We look at using the best technologies to provide the best service to our customers,” said Gierczynski.
Gierczynski says Verizon does not have to provide landlines.
“Verizon understands that it has an obligation to provide reliable voice service to customers, however there are no regulations that dictate what technology can be used to provide voice service to customers,” he said.
He says Verizon did run landlines to police and fire departments but explains the wire network in those areas was less damaged and easier to repair. Meanwhile, not everyone with Voice Link is complaining. Mantoloking resident Ken MacPherson’s a happy Verizon customer.
“And I have nothing but good things to say about them and not having a problem with it. There’s no issues as I have it,” he said.
Wilder and Post both switched to Comcast.