CWA union calls for federal, state investigation into Verizon's copper network

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union has asked that federal and state regulators in the 11 states where Verizon (NYSE: VZ) operates wireline networks investigate its claims that the telco is not performing necessary repairs and upkeep on its copper landline networks. It has filed letters to regulators in six states and Washington, D.C.

In July, Verizon told the FCC in a letter that it spent $200 million over the last seven years to maintain its copper-based landline networks.

Joining fellow incumbent LEC CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Verizon's letter was sent to the FCC in order to illustrate its claim that the de facto copper retirement concept is a "myth" and there's no need to include new requirements addressing the issue in its technology transition plans. De facto copper retirement is a process where a telco will let their aging copper plant deteriorate to the point where it would become necessary to replace the copper with fiber. 

According to the CWA, which is in the process of negotiating a new union contract with Verizon, the amount was less than 1 percent of the amount phone and DSL customers pay the for service.

CWA said in a release that this "means the average customer is financing wireless and fiber expansion, rather than the upkeep of the network they rely on," adding "that while it does support Verizon's expansion of FiOS, the company also has a legal obligation to provide safe, reliable service over its traditional landline network."

For its part, Verizon has continued to retire copper facilities, particularly on those lines where customers have reported issues with their voice services, and migrate them to fiber, a trend that continued into the second quarter. During the second quarter of 2015, Verizon reported that it had converted 51,000 customers off of copper to fiber, bringing its first-half total to 98,000. It has set a full-year goal to convert 200,000 customers.

CWA is not the only one that has raised concerns about Verizon's copper retirement and maintenance strategies.

A number of CLECs, including XO Communications and Windstream, two providers that use ILEC copper loops to provide Ethernet over Copper (EoC) services to complement its fiber product set, said that while they don't want to delay an ILEC's migration to fiber it would like a longer notice period when non-residential copper is going to be taken out of service.

In a separate filing, XO had previously asked for a one-year notice on copper retirement, a request that Verizon and US Telecom said would delay the IP transition.

The FCC has been keenly watching the copper retirement issue. In August, the FCC voted to approve a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will ensure consumers and businesses are not harmed as ILECs transition from legacy copper and TDM-based networks to IP-based networks.

For more:
- see the release

Related articles:
Verizon passes on $144M in CAF II funding as wireline asset sale rumors swirl
Verizon, CenturyLink say abandoning copper network is a "myth"
US Telecom says FCC's IP, copper retirement proposals will slow migration
FCC proposes extending copper retirement, sets IP transition protections for consumers, businesses