Verizon accused by CWA, consumer groups of forcing copper customers onto fiber

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is facing new accusations from the CWA and two consumer advocacy groups which claim that the telco continues to threaten to cut off service to DSL and legacy voice customers unless they switch to fiber.

The charges come as wireline workers represented by the CWA and IBEW remain on strike over stalled negotiations on a new labor contract.

This is the first complaint to the FCC alleging violations of the FCC's copper retirement rules. The joint complaint covers seven states in Verizon's wireline service territory: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

In the complaint, CWA and public interest groups Common Cause and Public Knowledge cite Verizon's internal "Fiber Is the Only Fix" policy. The groups claim that Verizon's policy is an attempt to deceive customers and constitutes "unjust and unreasonable practices" that violate federal law.

Under the "Fiber is the Only Fix" plan, if a customer reports an issue such as no dial tone or noise on their line, Verizon creates a "ghost" service order to transfer the customer to fiber service. The telco calls it a "ghost" service order because the customer is not told about it.

Over the past few years, Verizon has been systematically transferring over what it calls "chronic" copper customers, those who have reported multiple issues, to fiber across its wireline footprint.

According to the complaint, when Verizon dispatches a technician to fulfill the ghost order, they are told not to talk about the nature of the dispatch before arriving at the customer's location. Upon arriving at the customer premises, the technician tells the customer that Verizon no longer repairs copper lines, and the customer must upgrade to fiber. If the customer does not want to upgrade to fiber, Verizon will not allow the technician to repair the copper line and tells the customer that Verizon will disconnect the line. 

The complaint also says that Verizon only gives retail customers 15 days' notice before shutting off their copper-based service, which is far less than the 90-day requirement set by the FCC.

The FCC rules also prohibit service providers like Verizon from engaging in so-called de facto copper retirement, in which a provider allows its copper network to deteriorate on purpose.  

"At a time of technology transitions, it's more important than ever that people are fully informed with adequate time to prepare for any changes, but Verizon's deceptive practice cuts off service with no advance notice, and that's a threat to public safety and an unacceptable violation of FCC regulations," said Meredith Rose, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, in a prepared statement.

The groups cite various customers who said that they were never aware that Verizon was going to switch their copper lines to fiber. Interestingly, a number of customers who decide to switch over to a cable competitor found they could not port their old number.

A customer in New York City said Time Warner Cable won't transfer over their telephone number "because they say there is an open order."

"I can't cancel the order because then Verizon will shut the phone off and TWC says they can't get the number unless the service is active and cleared of any open orders," the customer said, according to the FCC complaint.

For more:
- see the release
- see the FCC complaint (PDF)
- The New York Times has this article

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Related articles:
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Verizon, wireline unions continue negotiations, but lock horns on healthcare, outsourcing jobs and pensions
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