BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Board of Public Utilities to Help South Jersey Verizon Customers

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

“This has been a David versus Goliath battle all along,” said Hopewell Township Councilman Greg Facemyer. “We’re at a disadvantage in South Jersey.”

Facemyer says South Jersey always feels like the little guy — especially when it takes on a telecommunications titan, like Verizon. But after folks across six rural counties served by failing copper phone wires felt so fed up they finally filed a petition with the Board of Public Utilities.

“The petition asserts that Verizon has failed to comply with its obligations to maintain and repair its service, to ensure that safe and adequate landline telephone and data transmissions are provided throughout New Jersey,” said Lawanda Gilbert, director at the BPU Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications.

Residents in 17 towns complained of lousy phone service including: no service at all in rain, snow, wind or fog; a hum so loud they couldn’t hear anything; no internet and dead phones for five days with no repair. Mom Linda DeJohn told us Verizon landlines didn’t work in 2008 when her son Joseph was in a car accident.

“When they come to your door and say, ‘Well, he was alive when they put him in the chopper,’ and you have to drive an hour or so to find out how your child is. He survived, he was injured, but it was really traumatic,” said DeJohn.

The BPU called for public hearings where hundreds turned out to complain. Verizon said it “continues to actively make upgrades to its South Jersey copper network to maintain and provide the reliable experience our customers expect and deserve. This includes making DSL service available to more than 2,000 customer who were previously unable to get it, and a DSL congestion relief plan that improved service for hundreds of existing customers.”

Both sides are negotiating a settlement, but at least one BPU commissioner chided today:

“The best way to make money is to provide service, to provide service and to provide service. That’s the best way to make money and I don’t understand why there is reluctance on the part of some companies to not follow that creed,” said BPU Commissioner Joseph Fiodaliso.

BPU staff recommended that the board designate a presiding commissioner to reach an agreement. Board President Richard Mroz volunteered.

“Hopefully the parties can continue those discussions and have a meaningful resolution,” Mroz said, “but if the resolution’s not to be then we would have to set down an evidentiary schedule and proceed with the process around these issues.”

“Our primary responsibility — and it shouldn’t be like we’re dealing with a bunch of elementary school children — our responsibility should be to ensure the fact that the citizens of New Jersey get the right kind of service that they’re entitled to because they pay good money to get it,” Fiodaliso said.

“We in South Jersey have been looked down upon as second class citizens for way too long and thank goodness for the BPU for standing up for us,” Facemyer said.

The next step: Mroz will consider testimony submitted by 350 angry South Jersey Verizon customers as both sides navigate towards a solution.