Bowing to repeated complaints from local officials and residents, state regulators have decided to hold at least one hearing to investigate allegations of poor telecom service by Verizon in South Jersey.
New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Richard Mroz announced Wednesday that the agency will look into complaints raised by 16 towns and Cumberland County regarding the quality of Verizon’s landline phone service.
The municipalities and the county petitioned late last year, asking the state agency to probe the problem, saying the traditional copper-line phone service was frequently interrupted and suffered from other problems as well.
The dispute with Verizon has festered in the communities among both residents and businesses for some time. The problems range from static on the lines to poor quality during bad weather to students not being able to do their homework because they do not have high-speed Internet access at home.
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 those locations, the towns want the agency to order Verizon to maintain its copper network until better options are available.
In a statement released by Mroz, he said the agency decided to hold a hearing in South Jersey after reviewing arguments filed by the county, towns, and Verizon.
[related]“The information gathered through the public hearing process will help determine next steps in this pending matter before the board,’’ Mroz said.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) applauded the agency’s decision to take up the issue.
“These problems are reportedly the result of poorly maintained cooper infrastructure and the refusal by Verizon to address it,’’ Van Drew said. “Frankly, they are far more than an inconvenience. They affect the quality of life of residents and the operations of businesses, as well as the public health and safety of people living in our communities.’’
In addition to spotty telephone service, the petition filed with the BPU accuses Verizon of misdirecting funds from its regulated phone business to its unregulated competitive business. Verizon called those allegations untrue.
Verizon also is tangling with some of those same communities over its decision not to pay personal business property tax in towns where less than a majority of landline customers receive phone service from the company. Verizon is doing so because of a tax court ruling in its favor, a ruling local officials claim misread a state statute.