‘Chronic’ Copper Customers, Beware: Op Ed in Long Beach Press Telegram

If you’ve called Verizon recently about a problem with your landline phone service, you may be labeled a “chronic” customer. By that Verizon means a chronic complainer.

It takes just one or two calls to get into that category, which triggers a Verizon program to flip your phone service, sometimes without your knowledge and often without your consent.

According to a declaration recently filed at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Verizon has predetermined that “Fiber is the Only Fix” for chronic complainers like you. The declaration, filed by Communications Workers of America, supports an emergency request by TURN for the CPUC to put a stop to Verizon’s practice of forcing copper, landline customers onto fiber or Internet based phones services.

Verizon has made no secret of its desire to put an end to copper-based landline service altogether. But fiber or Internet phones simply don’t provide the same reliability that copper does, especially during electrical outages. “Forced migration” drew howls of protest in New York and New Jersey when Verizon attempted to impose it on customers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. And TURN is part of a national coalition demanding that the Federal Communications Commission look into the problem. But the practice is apparently alive and well in California.

Workers don’t want to be part of the scheme. A group of them showed up at a recent Senate Energy Utilities and Commerce Committee to complain about being pressured to deceive customers, or at least withhold the truth, about the availability of copper and the comparative disadvantages of fiber.

If a chronic customer calls for a repair, they are told that they must transfer to fiber-based FiOS service, and advised that nothing else will change. Which the workers — and the company — know isn’t true.

In fact, TURN’s motion includes complaints from customers in Long Beach who were unaware that the fiber-based service would not be the same as their old landline. Most importantly, customers are not being told that their new, fiber-based phone service depends on backup power in a power outage, hence will not provide the same 911 access and reliability as their copper services did

But FiOS will look good to customers who are being pushed onto the substandard VoiceLink service.

Voice Link does not allow customers to make calls to “certain specialized area codes,” such as 900 or central office codes, or allow customers to accept collect calls. Verizon’s Voice Link Terms of Service for New York state that the service “is not compatible with fax machines, DVR services, credit card machines, medical alert or other monitoring services or High Speed or DSL Internet services.” Yet the CWA declaration states unequivocally that Voice Link is being pushed on customers here in California already.

TURN believes this degradation in vital phone service is detrimental to public safety and therefore contrary to the CPUC’s obligation to ensure reliable service. At the very least the commission must stop Verizon from cutting off customers who refuse the change. For many customers, Verizon may be the only choice for stand-alone local phone service.

The Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia recently put its foot down after investigating similar practices, ordering Verizon to make sure customers are given the option of having their copper connection repaired and are not being pressured to purchase fiber services they don’t want.

TURN is urging the California Commission to take immediate steps to prevent further deterioration of Verizon’s network and protect the interests of customers by ordering Verizon to repair the service of copper-based landline customers who requested repair or were migrated, and cease the deceptive marketing practices workers are complaining about. When workers and customers are complaining about the same practices, it is a sure sign something is wrong.