South Jersey Towns Petition to Be Heard

By Brenda Flanagan

Telephone poles carry miles of old copper lines over acres of farmland to Verizon customers like Linda DeJohn. She says phone service to their Cumberland County home often goes dead — including one night in 2008, when state troopers were unable to connect and finally drove to Linda’s home. They reported that her son Joseph had been in an auto accident.

“When they come to your door and say, ‘Well, he was alive when we 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,” she said.

The DeJohns often call Verizon for repairs. In fact, this spreadsheet lists complaints from dozens of Hopewell Township residents including: ‘No service if rain, snow, wind or fog’, ‘hum so loud can’t hear anything’, ‘where is the internet?’, and ‘phone completely dead, waited five days for repair.’

Businesses can’t process orders and kids can’t download homework, says Hopewell Councilman Greg Facemyer who compiled the list of rants against Verizon.

“They have failed in their responsibility,” he said. “It is not fair that they can turn their back on their statutory obligation. They’ve been paid many, many millions of dollars to maintain these landlines.”

Facemyer’s leading a revolt that includes 16 municipalities across four Southernmost Jersey counties. They recently filed a petition asking the state Board of Public Utilities to investigate Verizon’s phone service. He claims it’s a public safety issue — that storms cut off emergency communication, cellphone towers offer only spotty coverage and faulty service can even postpone safety drills at nuclear power plants.

“I know that there were drills that occurred in the nuclear facility and the drills had to be called off because of the deteriorating copper landlines,” Facemyer said.

A PSEG Nuclear spokesman flatly denies that, saying, “We haven’t had to postpone any safety drills for an issue with the phone lines.”

Facemyer says Verizon refuses to install FioS fiber optic cable because it’s unprofitable.

“It’s scary, it really is. People don’t know that they will be able to call 9-1-1 when they want to call 9-1-1. That is something that really has a lot of people down there very alarmed,” Stefanie Brand said.

Brand heads New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel and is appealing the BPU’s decision this May to deregulate Verizon’s landline services. She may have more evidence. The DeJohns and other Verizon customers complain the utility giant handed them business cards for repair techs urging them to bypass calling the company, where complaints would be accurately logged.

“It makes you wonder how often they’ve done this, and then they say people aren’t reporting problems,” Brand said.

A Verizon spokesman says, “We take this very seriously and are reviewing the customer service reports of all 16 towns. We look forward to meeting with the mayors to discuss our findings…Every quarter, we report to the BPU the number of complaints we’ve received. There is no evidence in the petition to support the claim that these reports are not accurate.”

Hopewell logged about 156 complaints. It’s not a lot, but all these people are yelling at Verizon and the BPU, “Can you hear me now?”