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Landlines going the way of the dodo?

Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, left, assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and county legislator Gene Benson address reporters on July 10 about the importance of landline communication.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
July 17, 2013

Politicians and emergency workers gathered at the Sullivan County 911 Center on July 10 to sound the alarm about Voice Link, a wireless product being offered to some customers of Verizon. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther led the charge against Voice Link, and pointed out that it does not work with fax machines, credit card processing devices, medical alert systems and high speed Internet service.

A statement on the Verizon website from Tom Maguire, a senior vice president of the company, says “Outside of a few areas where Sandy destroyed the copper, we will not offer Voice Link to any customer who has existing DSL services or any sort of electronic medical or legal monitoring.”

But Gunther sees it differently. She said, “At the end of the day, this is about Verizon abandoning its landline telephone network in favor of wireless.” She added, “Time and time again, wireless companies like Verizon have shown that they are not interested in investing in the infrastructure necessary to create reliable wireless service in Sullivan County.”

Verizon has been granted temporary permission by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to install Voice Link technology on a portion of Fire Island this summer rather than rebuild the copper-wire network that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and that has prompted protests by some consumers there.

The matter has also prompted attorney general Eric Schniederman to file a statement with the PSC that says, “The commission should not jettison wireline service merely because Verizon business strategy prefers a wireless business plan. Many incumbent local exchange providers continue to provide wireline telephone service to customers both in New York and across the nation. The commission should instead require that Verizon divest those portions of its New York franchise where it is no longer willing to provide wireline service and replace Verizon with another carrier.”

The Maguire statement says, “Where Sandy wiped out our facilities, there was no wired home phone service of any kind after the storm and we carefully considered the options that would be most effective in meeting consumers’ immediate needs, as well as the long-term needs of the island.”

In a separate petition filed on June 27, Schniederman wrote that Verizon had shipped a large amount of Voice Link technology to Monticello and was instructing its technicians, when called on to repair a phone, not to repair the old system but instead to install Voice Link. Schneiderman wrote, “Only where a customer forcefully refuses Voice Link will Verizon repair the wire line service.”