Consumer Groups Complain That AT&T, Verizon Force Customers Off Basic Phone Service

By Josh Long Comments
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Several organizations this week called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate complaints that telecommunications companies are forcing customers off traditional phone service.

The letter was sent to the FCC as the agency considers overseeing trials that could pave the way for U.S. phone companies to entirely phase out their legacy copper networks.

“Complaints often state that customers are being involuntarily moved to fiber or IP-based service (or some combination thereof), even if those new technologies fail to serve all of the user’s needs or will be more expensive," according to the May 12 letter signed by representatives of Public Knowledge, The Utility Reform Network, The National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, Office of the People’s Counsel, District of Columbia, State of New Jersey, Division of the Rate Counsel, Appalshop, The Benton Foundation, Rural Broadband Policy Group and the National Consumer Law Center. “Denying basic phone service to people who have relied on the network for decades violates the network compact that has successfully guided our communications policy for 100 years. A Commission investigation of these complaints is necessary to ensure the continued vitality of the fundamental values that underlie our network, including universal service."

The organizations identified complaints that involved AT&T and Verizon. For instance, the letter cited a request last year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, asking that the New York Public Service Commission stop Verizon from moving customers in the Catskills to a fixed wireless service rather than repairing its copper lines. In an emergency petition filed on June 26, 2013, Schneiderman alleged Verizon installed its Voice Link service to seasonal customers in the Catskills beyond the scope of what the New York Public Service Commission had authorized due to special circumstances connected to the damage from the deadly and destructive hurricane, Superstorm Sandy.

“As we upgrade our networks, we continue to provide our customers with the option of receiving the same regulated POTS service, at the same price, over fiber facilities that they received over copper facilities," said Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden, commenting on the letter from Public Knowledge and others. “We work closely with our customers to address any concerns or issues they may have."

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