CWA accuses Verizon of abandoning broken wireline facilities in the Northeast

Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) largest union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), is on the warpath again, charging that the telco is not repairing its damaged copper lines in the Northeast, but is instead driving customers to its wireless Voice Link home phone service.

CWA is filing requests with regulators in three of the telco's key operating states, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to see if they can find data about how large the problem is.

Although the telco is required by the local public utility commissions (PUC) in each state in which it operates to report issues, the union claims that Verizon is not making all of the information publicly available.

The CWA has filed seven Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Each FOIA request asks for information regarding Verizon's upkeep and maintenance of older landline systems. 

"As a public utility in these states, Verizon has a duty to maintain services for all customers. But we've seen how the company abandons users, particularly on legacy networks, and customers across the country have noticed their service quality is plummeting," said Dennis Trainor, CWA vice president for District 1, representing workers in local unions in New York, New Jersey, New England, and eastern Canada, in a release. "The public deserves to know about Verizon's failure to serve its customers and maintain a working telephone system--and these FOIAs aim to do just that."

Interestingly, the CWA's filings emerge as they get ready to begin negotiations later this month for a new labor contract.

Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman, told the The Wall Street Journal that the CWA's move is a tactic to strongarm the telco before it begins contract negotiations. He denied the union's claims that they are turning their back on their legacy networks.

"It's pure nonsense to say we're abandoning our copper networks," Young said.

Young added that the telco is investing in the upkeep of its copper network and offers Voice Link as a temporary voice service replacement. Nearly 13,000 traditional copper customers opted to keep the Voice Link service.

Verizon came under fire after Hurricane Sandy when reports emerged that it tried to bypass repairing damaged copper lines Fire Island, N.Y., by providing customers Voice Link. After its initial decision to not replace the wires incited outrage from residents, unions and regulators, the telco announced in September 2013 that it would replace the wireline network infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Sandy on New York's Fire Island with its FTTH-based FiOS service.

Regardless of what comes out of these investigations, it's clear that Verizon has been working to replace its aging copper networks with fiber and wireless.

During the first quarter, the service provider revealed that it migrated 47,000 customers onto fiber, helping it come closer to reaching its 2015 goal of 200,000 customers.

At the same time, the telco is also shedding pieces of its wireline network to other players. In February, Verizon reached a deal to sell its wireline properties in California, Florida, and Texas to Frontier Communications for $10.5 billion.

At the same time, Verizon is spending less on its wireline network. In 2014, the telco invested $5.8 billion on the wireline network, down 7.7 percent from 2013.

Spending on its wireline network is also declining. Last year, the company invested $5.8 billion on its wirelines, a 7.7 percent reduction from the year before. Young told WSJ the decline in wireline spending is related to its winding down the buildout of its FiOS network.

For more:
- WSJ has this article
- see the release

Related articles:
Verizon FiOS 75 Mbps Quantum adoption rises amidst Q1 wireline revenue decline
Verizon to take FTTH to Hurricane-ravaged Fire Island, NY
Frontier acquires Verizon wireline assets in 3 states for $10.5B