By Brenda Flanagan
“I thought the letter was pretty heavy-handed,” said Stefanie Brand, Director of Rate Counsel.
The director’s talking about a letter Verizon sent to at least one customer in Bloomfield, threatening to cut off phone service if they didn’t switch from old copper landline to Verizon’s fiber-optic network within 45 days.
“We were shocked. We thought this was clearly a violation of a bunch of state statutes and certainly Verizon’s obligation to be the provider of last resort,” said Brand.
The May 15 Verizon letter warns “…services will be suspended on or after 45 days from the date of this letter, if you do not allow Verizon reasonable access to your premises … to move your service to our fiber-optic network… Once your service is suspended, you will only be able to call 9-1-1 and our customer service number … 14 days after being suspended, Verizon service at your address will be disconnected…”
“She was very upset because she wants to keep her copper wire system. She thinks it’s more reliable than the fiber. She wants to be able to have her phone if the electricity goes out, and so she called us,” said Brand.
The Division of Rate Counsel today filed a petition, asking New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities to investigate the Verizon letter, and order the utility to cease and desist. AARP saw Verizon’s letter, too.
“Where Verizon gets the chutzpah to take such rude and inappropriate steps with their own customers is completely beyond belief and it’s completely unjustifiable,” said Douglas Johnston, interim state director for AARP in New Jersey.
AARP still opposes Verizon’s recent agreement with the Board of Public Utilities, to transition from and deregulate copper landline service, and gradually replace it with digital fiber optics — even though Verizon agreed to minimal rate increases for five years. The Division of Rate Counsel disputes that agreement and today separately filed an appeal with New Jersey’s Appellate Court to block it and order the BPU to hold public hearings on the matter. Brand says the ink on that agreement hadn’t even dried before Verizon started strong-arming its customers.
“Maybe fiber is the future, but at least it has to be done in an orderly manner. You can’t just send somebody a letter and say, ‘Do this now, or we’re gonna cut you off,'” said Brand.
“The people of New Jersey need to be able to live by the rule of law and not the rule of Verizon’s corporate fiat,” Johnston said.
The woman who received Verizon’s letter was not named in the legal request from the Division, but told the Rate Counsel she wasn’t the only recipient — that friends of hers had gotten one, too.