The state is being asked to investigate Verizon’s traditional landline phone service in 16 largely rural towns in South Jersey, where officials say serious communication problems plague both residents and businesses.
In a petition filed with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the communities’ claim Verizon is failing to adequately maintain its old copper network, affecting the ability of students and businesses to compete in the 21st century.
With customers unable to obtain hookups to its faster and more modern fiber-optic service because the company has not built out the network in these locations, the towns wants the agency to order Verizon maintain its copper network until the newer service is available.
“This is truly a tale of two cities,’’ said Gregory Facemyer, a Hopewell Township committeeman. “In more affluent communities, Verizon has begun to phase out copper with more modern fiber while ignoring these issues in communities like ours.’’
This is not the first time the BPU has been asked to look at issues revolving around Verizon’s copper network. On two occasions, Director of the Office of Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand has asked the agency to order the company to stop disconnecting customers in other parts of the state from the traditional phone network without their approval. The BPU has not acted on the request.
Verizon contends it has spent $4 billion on its wireline network over the past five years, including targeted investments in the copper network, according to John Bonomo, a spokesman for the company. In South Jersey, Verizon says it has spent millions in maintaining the existing plant there.
“Overall, Verizon provides strong customer service to its New Jersey customers,’’ Bonomo said. “We will continue investing throughout the state to ensure that the services provided over our network remain the most reliable and most desirable option for local consumers.’’
Facemyer disagreed, saying the towns in Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, and Atlantic Counties have had problems with the landline service for years. The problems range from static on the lines to interruptions of service during bad weather to students not being able to do their homework because they do not have high-speed Internet access at home.
In two small neighboring towns, Verizon extended its fiber-optic service, but Facemeyer said “they won’t build us (Hopewell) out because it is too expensive. They have walked away their statutory requirements.’’
Brand is sympathetic to the towns’ plight. “They raise some very serious concerns about public safety and the ability of businesses to compete,’’ Brand said.
Even though the BPU reclassified Verizon’s basic telephone service earlier this year, the company still has an obligation to provide safe and adequate service to its customers, according to Brand.
Ev Liebman, associate director of AARP, said the state needs to address the issue of telephone infrastructure raised by the towns. “These kinds of services are essential to a well-functioning economy and some of these people may have trouble getting access to 911,’’ she said.
In addition to spotty telephone service, the petition filed with BPU accuses Verizon of misdirecting funds from its regulated phone business to subsidize its unregulated competitive business. Verizon called the allegation “flatly untrue.’’