Verizon's legacy network in rural New Jersey draws hundreds of complaints from residents

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) continues to draw complaints about the state of its legacy copper landlines, this time from residents in rural New Jersey who are reporting to their county government about poor voice service quality and even outages during rain or snowstorms.

The ruckus is just the latest in a series of regulatory complaints made against Verizon by municipal governments and unions like the CWA (Communications Workers of America) about the strategy it's taking with its aging copper infrastructure.

Cumberland County, N.J., Counsel Ted Baker told The Press of Atlantic City that a complaint portal on the county's website that recently opened to take complaints about Verizon service is seeing plenty of use. More than 500 complaints have been made so far, Baker said, and more are arriving every day, some by letter or other forms of communication.

Complaints about static or buzzing on voice lines during calls have come in, while others said their service is interrupted during bad weather. One complaint indicated that the problems are so frequent that listing just a single date or occurrence isn't enough.

The state senator for the district that includes Cumberland County, Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic) wants a hearing in his district to be held by the state's Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to address residents' complaints and concerns and reveal the extent of customers' problems with Verizon service.

"The failure of Verizon to properly maintain its copper lines in this region of the state has led to telephone interference and, at times, completely inoperable landline and Internet service," Van Drew told the Press. "These problems are not only an inconvenience, they are causing public safety and quality of life issues and require action."

A Verizon representative told FierceTelecom that "as far as service quality in the area, our network performance in South Jersey is actually quite good and consistently better than state BPU standards."

This isn't the first time the BPU has been asked to look into Verizon quality of service issues in New Jersey. Late last year, officials representing 16 municipalities in the state's Cumberland, Atlantic, Gloucester and Salem counties -- most of them rural -- petitioned the BPU to investigate whether Verizon was failing to maintain its copper landlines.

For Verizon's part, Baker said that the carrier's representatives have met with officials in many of the municipalities that filed the original petition. Verizon confirmed to FierceTelecom that it is meeting individually with towns in the area. However, a solution hasn't yet been recommended that is satisfactory to officials in many of the towns -- most want new fiber installed, rather than maintaining the existing copper landlines.

Verizon is also potentially facing an investigation by Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission, which will hold hearings about alleged unsafe working conditions in the wake of a CWA petition.  The CWA has also taken the carrier to task in Maryland and several other states, claiming Verizon is no longer maintaining its copper networks in at least 11 states and is conducting a "de facto" retirement of the legacy infrastructure.

Their claims prompted Verizon to respond last September in a filing to the FCC. "As part of that discussion, we wrote that Verizon since 2008 has spent more than $200 million on its copper network. CWA has seized on that comment, taken it out of context, and tried to use it to create the false impression that this was all of the money that Verizon has spent to keep copper in service." Rather, Verizon said that $200 million was just one figure in several categories of capital expenditures on its legacy networks.

For more:
- see this Press of Atlantic City article (tiered sub.)

Related articles:
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CWA says Verizon has neglected Maryland's copper network
Verizon says CWA created a false impression of the state of its copper network
AT&T, Verizon face California PUC scrutiny over copper networks