NJ Consumer Advocate Wants Verizon to Stop Switching Customers From Copper Lines

In second filing with BPU, Division of Rate Counsel wants telecom giant to stop changeover until ongoing investigation is complete

The state’s top consumer advocate is renewing a request that regulators launch an investigation into Verizon New Jersey’s practice of disconnecting its customers from traditional copper-line phone service without telling them in a timely manner that it’s doing so.

In a second filing with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the state Division of Rate Counsel also asked the agency to order the telecom company to stop disconnecting customers until the investigation is complete.

The issue has aroused complaints in New Jersey and in other states as big telecom carriers shift customers from decades-old wireline service to new fiber-optic networks and other advanced technologies.

Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand said her office has been receiving complaints from consumers in 10 counties about the practice and about other problems with Verizon since the initial filing requesting an investigation was made earlier this summer.

“The board should take a look at what’s going on,’’ Brand said, referring to the BPU. “We want to make it clear to the BPU that they have the authority in making sure the transition occurs in an orderly manner.’’

[related]To date, the BPU has not responded to the filing. Typically, the agency does not comment on issues pending before it.

A spokesman for Verizon said the company is working closely with its customers to communicate with them what it is doing. To date, Verizon has received 17 complaints about the practice, according to Lee Gierczynski.

“Overall, Verizon has received less than one complaint per 100 customers, so the rate counsel’s claim is much ado about nothing,’’ he said.

Verizon is providing customers the same voice service they have today at the same rates, terms, and conditions, but over the company’s fiber-optic network, Gierczynski said. “Once on that network, customers experience more robust and reliable service,’’ he said.

But Brand, in the filing, argued Verizon’s practices are inconsistent with new requirements established by the Federal Communications Commission. She also maintains that the company is not providing customers with all the information they need to understand the transition.

Some customers do not want to switch to the fiber-optic system because they fear they will not be able to make calls should there be a power outage. Gierczynski said the company is providing a battery backup system to those customers.

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