Verizon bites back at N.J. Rate Counsel over its opposition to copper retirement

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) says the lone opposition from the State of New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel to its proposal to transfer existing landline voice service customers from copper to fiber in its Bloomfield and New Brunswick, N.J., wire centers is "without merit."

In an FCC filing, Verizon noted its proposal has not faced any "valid objections to the copper retirement filed by providers serving customers in this area, and no request for an extension of time."

Verizon added that "the claims raised by the single commenter are not specific to these two wire centers."

In a Feb. 24 FCC filing, Stefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, said that the independent state agency began receiving complaints from consumers in Bloomfield and Brunswick in May 2015 after Verizon circulated notices to its legacy voice customers there.

"The majority of customers calling want more information about the transition process, are very concerned that telephone service on the fiber platform will cease functionality during extended power-outages and want to know if Verizon has the legal right to migrate their services unto [sic] the fiber platform and to cut-off their telephone service if they refuse to allow the migration," Brand said.

Similar to other parts of its territory where it has transitioned customers from copper onto fiber, the majority of the customers served out of these two wiring centers mainly purchase traditional phone service.

Upon completing the transfer onto the fiber-based facilities, Verizon said these customers will still be able to get the "same traditional POTS service over fiber on the same terms and conditions and at the same or better price as they received over copper."

However, Brand said that the agency has received a variety of complaints from Verizon's voice customers. Some told the Rate Counsel that they were pressured to switch to the fiber-based service, and then suffered service interruptions after migrating. Other customers are worried that their medical equipment, alarms and other special equipment like "first-generation relay or CapTel equipment used by persons with hearing loss or impairment" will not work.

Verizon responded to those concerns in its filing, saying that customers will be able to get the same features on fiber such as fax machines, medical monitoring devices, home alarms and the ability to dial 911 during an emergency, the provider said.

The service provider said it will also work with existing DS1 and DS3 customers to provide comparable services over the fiber connections.

Because it's a fiber-based connection, existing DSL customers will able to get access to higher speeds of 50-500 Mbps at what Verizon says will be "comparable pricing."

Besides offering higher broadband speeds to customers in these areas that want it, the transition to fiber also enables Verizon to increase reliability and reducing repair calls traditionally associated with copper.

"The reliability advantages of fiber directly benefit customers," Verizon said. "For example, as a result of Verizon's programs in recent years to encourage customers experiencing repeated service issues with copper facilities to migrate to fiber, there have been approximately 2.7 million fewer repair or trouble-shooting dispatches than would have been required had these customers remained on copper facilities. This equates to 2.7 million instances in which customers have not experienced an outage or other problem with their service."

Verizon has faced a lot of controversy for the state of its copper network facilities in New Jersey. In December, a group of 16 municipalities in New Jersey filed a petition with the state's board of public utilities (BPU) to prevent Verizon from reducing maintenance of its copper network in favor of fiber or wireless.

Filed on behalf of the towns located in four Southern New Jersey counties, the petition asks the board to take several measures for phone, data and internet services to be equally available to the residents in these communities as they are in the rest of the state. 

Regardless of the copper retirement issues it has faced, Verizon has made steady progress in reaching its copper-to-fiber migration goals over the past year converting 200,000 customers from copper to fiber at the end of 2015.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- see the Rate Counsel's FCC filing (PDF)

Related articles:
Verizon furthers copper-to-fiber replacement strategy in 4 states
Verizon transitions more New York City wireline customers from copper to fiber
Verizon sees value in transforming network to IP, fiber, but conversion challenges remain
Verizon's Stratton sees 'host' of opportunities to improve wireline, wireless operations
Verizon, CenturyLink say abandoning copper network is a "myth"

Sam Bookman, managing editor for Fierce Markets telecom group, also contributed to this report.