Verizon's troubled Voice Link deployment faces more pushback from NY Attorney General

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is sinking his teeth further into Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) planned Voice Link installation on Fire Island and elsewhere in the state. His office filed a statement with the Public Service Commission that asks the PSC to review its decision to allow Verizon to avoid rebuilding its destroyed copper network on the west side of the barrier island, and to require Verizon to divest any legacy assets it no longer has an interest in maintaining.

"The Commission should not jettison wireline service merely because Verizon business strategy prefers a wireless business plan," the AG said in the statement. "…The Commission should instead require that Verizon divest those portions of its New York franchise where it is no longer willing to continue providing wireline service and replace Verizon with another carrier that will provide wireline service."

The move is not surprising, as it follows a request for an injunction filed late last week by the AG that aims to stop Verizon from further deployment of the wireless voice service on Fire Island and in the Catskills, where the carrier is offering Voice Link as an option to replace legacy copper-based services.

Similar to the language in its injunction request, the AG alleges in its statement to the PSC that "Verizon has attempted to install Voice Link service in other portions of New York beyond western Fire Island, contrary to its tariff and the Commission's May 16 order."

The AG is implying that Verizon's moves on both Fire Island and in the Catskills are an experimental attempt to discontinue traditional wireline services in those areas. It pointed out that the carrier had in the past quickly worked to restore service in damaged areas after Hurricane Irene and after a 2008 ice storm in Upstate New York, but that it took its time resolving the communications issue on the island after Superstorm Sandy.

"The only difference from these past weather events and Fire Island's present circumstances is that Verizon is no longer interested in continuing to serve customers on its copper wireline network," the statement said.

"Verizon's efforts to gain approval of Voice Link as a means of restoring service to Fire Island customers whose wireline network was damaged by Sandy does not justify abandoning POTS by ILECs in Fire Island," the AG said in its statement.  

Verizon, for its part, is continuing to defend its position. SVP Tom Maguire, who heads the Voice Link program, told FierceTelecom last week that the carrier is not forcing subscribers in the Catskills and other areas of the U.S. to replace their landlines. "We're not telling people [they] must take that service," he said.

"Fire Island is a very unique circumstance--that's why we had to get the tariff amendment," Maguire told FierceTelecom. "In other places, if it's a voice-only customer… it's a unique set of customers. If the customer and Voice Link seem to be a good match, we're going to offer it to them. That doesn't violate anything. That's using the latest technology to provide the best service to the customer."

Opponents of the Voice Link rollout complain that the wireless service is inferior to traditional wireline in many ways. The service is voice-only and does not currently support data, meaning subscribers can't even use dial-up to access the Internet. It also does not support faxing or alarm services. There are plans for Voice Link to have Caller ID and data service, but those have not yet been implemented on the devices.

Businesses on the island also complained that Voice Link would be a detriment to them, making it impossible to run credit-card transactions or offer Wi-Fi to customers.

For more:
- Forbes has this article
- see the PSC statement

Related articles:
NY Attorney General files injunction request as Verizon eyes Catskills for its Voice Link service
Verizon goes on offensive in Voice Link deployment
Verizon Voice Link plan for Fire Island approved by NY commission