As we’ve been exploring for some time, both AT&T and Verizon have been turning their backs on traditional copper-based phone service and DSL users they’re unwilling to upgrade. Both of the companies’ next-gen fixed-line broadband deployment plans (U-Verse and FiOS, respectively) have been all but frozen as the ISPs focus on notably more profitable wireless service. The shift is understandable: wireless tends to be cheaper to deploy, less unionized, and relatively less regulated, and the fact that it’s usage capped in the face of soaring mobile video growth means future revenue projections are very handsome indeed.
The only problem? Tens of millions of people remain on DSL lines the companies refuse to upgrade to fiber. Many of these lines were built on the backs of billions in taxpayer subsidies — subsidies that quite often were given for fiber upgrades that were never actually delivered. Both AT&T and Verizon are willfully trying to drive these customers away via the one-two punch of price hikes and support neglect, while going state by state lobbying for the gutting of all regulations requiring that they continue to offer service or meet base levels of service quality.
Cable operators are pretty happy with this paradigm, as the decrease in DSL competitors means less competition than ever before. Unions, however, obviously aren’t a huge fan of this transition given the decrease in deployment and support, and have ramped up their attacks on Verizon’s neglect of older networks. The Communications Workers of America has been pushing regulators to disclose the impact this neglect has had on consumer complaint numbers:
“The CWA plans to file public information requests this week with a handful of state regulators including in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to see whether it can uncover data showing the extent of the problems…”Verizon is systematically abandoning the legacy network and as a consequence the quality of service for millions of phone customers has plummeted,” said Bob Master, CWA’s political director for the union’s northeastern region.”
That specifically shouldn’t be hard in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where state lawmakers handed Verizon billions in tax breaks and subsidies for symmetrical fiber lines, then more recently voted to let Verizon completely off the hook for failing to meet agreement obligations. Making things worse, states like New Jersey then let Verizon lobbyists sell them on deals that gut the company’s remaining obligations to users in these states, meaning what service that remains labors under a completely deregulated environment where there’s no punishment for total Verizon apathy.
So with Verizon pretty obviously neglecting its aging copper networks, it’s pretty amusing to see a Verizon rep try to tell the Journal that’s simply not happening:
“It’s pure nonsense to say we’re abandoning our copper networks,” Mr. Young said. Mr. Young said the company is investing in its copper network, and it only offers Voice Link as a temporary replacement while repairs are being done. About 13,000 customers have decided to keep the Voice Link service, Mr. Young said.”
Except it’s hard to insist a claim is “pure nonsense” when anybody with eyes (or a rural Verizon DSL and phone connection) can see what Verizon’s up to. Verizon’s been particularly distasteful in its recent decisions to use storm damage (be it Hurricane Sandy or other major storms) to simply refuse to upgrade damaged DSL and POTS (plain old telephone service) lines, instead shoving customers toward the Voice Link service Mr. Young highlights. Except Voice Link is less reliable and provides numerous fewer features than the fixed lines it’s replacing, something that has annoyed locals and municipalities.
So while the unions’ arguments are obviously self-serving, they’re highlighting a pretty important problem that’s still managing to fly under the radar despite being a topic of great importance to millions of impacted, neglected consumers. Verizon not only took billions in subsidies and failed to deliver fiber, they’re now lobbying states for the right to neglect these remaining copper-based customers they simply couldn’t care less about. In short, they’ve shafted these users from countless directions, in countless ways, for more than a decade. For Verizon to try and claim that these easily-documented problems are “nonsense” is a heaping dose of nonsense in and of itself.