Verizon's Silliman: 'Not company policy' to fire technicians for repairing copper

EPB workers install fiber optic cables in Chattanooga. Image: EPB
Technicians installing fiber. Image: EPB

WASHINGTON – Verizon representatives Thursday struck back against claims that the company was threatening to fire field technicians if they tried to repair broken copper phone lines.

“That is not a company policy,” asserted Craig Silliman, Verizon EVP of Public Policy and General Counsel, in a Q&A with reporters.

The claim came out in a Pennsylvania memo last week, which suggested that technicians could face serious consequences if they replaced copper phone lines instead of connecting the customer to Verizon's wireless home phone service, VoiceLink.

“Failure to follow this directive may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal,” the memo said, according to ars technica.

Silliman said the report was likely misunderstanding the context of the situation, which is often about getting the customer the most reliable service. He said that if a customer on copper lines has called for repairs several times, it is worthwhile for the company to upgrade the customer to fiber or wireless.

“We do have a policy that says: If you're on a copper line, and we see that you have called in with a repair query a certain number of times, we look at it as, okay, clearly your copper line has clearly reached a point we keep sending people out for repairs, and two months later, you're calling in again,” Silliman said. “That's a terrible customer experience. And we look at it and say, it's actually worth it for us to spend the extra money to replace your copper line with fiber.”

The representatives went on to note that this was ultimately a better deal for the consumer, as they would get more reliable – and faster – service for the same price.

“It's certainly more expensive to replace your copper line with a fiber line, but there comes a time where we say that's actually a better way to go, if the copper has reached a certain point where we think we can't repair it,” Silliman said.“These other things are really turning something that's about truth and customer experience, and saying 'I'm refusing to repair your copper.' It's a strange way to look at it.”

When asked about the threat of dismissal, Silliman noted that contracts often have to provide an incentive structure so that employees sufficiently prioritize finding good solutions for customers.

“So sometimes you need to put policies in place that say: Even though I know that I'm judging you in a way that says 'do as many jobs as possible,' I know that in some cases that may lead to a sub-optimal situation for the consumer.' So, I'm going to put a clause in the policy that says 'but you must do the following,'” he said.

He added that if the memo sounds aggressive, it's likely because of the way it needed to be drafted.

“We have a unionized workforce in this area. I can tell you that everything that you communicate in your contracts is drafted carefully by lawyers – because you have to, there's a whole sort of back and forth. So it wouldn't surprise me that you have very legalistic-sounding language in there,” Silliman said.

RELATED: Verizon furthers copper-to-fiber replacement strategy in 4 states

Verizon has something of a track record when it comes to enthusiastic retirement of fiber. Back in March, the company locked horns with the New Jersey Rate Counsel over its opposition to retiring copper in the area.