Verizon Customers in South Jersey Finally Get Hearings to Air Gripes

Tom Johnson | July 13, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Longstanding complaints contend that company’s traditional phone network is plagued by outages and not fast enough for high-speed Internet service

Sixteen towns in South Jersey will finally get their opportunity to vent to regulatory officials about recurring problems they claim plague Verizon’s phone service in their communities.

The state Board of Public Utilities yesterday scheduled two hearings on the issue for the same day in early August, complying with a seventh-month-old request to investigate the company’s maintenance of traditional phone service in the communities.

In a petition filed last November, the communities, along with the county of Cumberland, claimed Verizon is failing to adequately maintain its old copper phone network, affecting the ability of students and businesses to compete in the 21st century.

Residents and officials in the towns, located in mostly rural communities in four counties, are upset that Verizon has yet to build out its faster and more modern fiber-optic service in that area, leaving customers with the older copper network to meet their needs.

The dispute with Verizon has plagued the communities 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.

In the past, Verizon has responded to complaints from the towns saying it has spent $4 billion on its wireline network over the past five years, including targeted investments in the copper infrastructure. In South Jersey, Verizon has spent millions in maintaining the existing plant there.

Complaints about Verizon’s maintenance of its old copper network are not new. On two occasions Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand has asked the BPU to order the company to stop disconnecting customers from the network without the customer’s approval. The agency has yet to act on the request.

A decade ago, Verizon won approval for a statewide franchise from the BPU, allowing it to offer its telephone service, television programming, and Internet service, but it is not required to provide it to all 566 towns in New Jersey. The approval stipulated the telecom company must build out in the 60 most populous communities, which Verizon has done.

Local officials in South Jersey complain Verizon is refusing to build out the new fiber-optic network in their communities because it is too expensive and the towns are too sparsely populated.

The two public hearings will be help on August, at the Estell Manor Elementary School in Estell Manor at 3:30 p.m. and at 6:30 p.m.