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Verizon workers can be fired for repairing copper lines

If you ask Verizon how it feels about its copper network, the company is quick to reassure you that it cares — deeply! — about its copper infrastructure. The company has fought back against claims that it was neglecting its copper business, deliberately attempting to force customers to switch to fiber, and push them towards wireless service as a replacement for landlines. Unfortunately for Verizon, the company’s own statements, leaked documents, and official findings of fact from investigations into the company’s business practices paint a very different picture.

Verizon’s behavior has been opposed by the Communication Workers Association, which charges that the company is deliberately neglecting its copper business. The CWA has asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to investigate Verizon and has provided a significant body of evidence demonstrating widespread neglect. From damaged poles and temporary patch jobs left in place for years at a time, to wild animals nesting inside telephone boxes, the documented state of Verizon’s infrastructure is extremely poor. Verizon has consistently attempted to paint the CWA’s betrayal of its infrastructure as a pressure tactic rather than a genuine complaint. That’s probably why the CWA showed up with documented proof Verizon told its technicians they could be fired if they attempted to repair copper infrastructure.

The memo above is dated 9/20 and instructs technicians how they are to handle VoiceLink migration “opportunities.” It notes that Verizon will migrate as many customers as possible to its wireless VoiceLink service. It states that VoiceLink must be the first option if the customer qualifies, and that “Failure to follow this directive may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.” Combined with the documented evidence of the terrible shape of Verizon’s copper network, and Verizon’s claims about the quality of its copper service are ludicrous.

To determine whether these problems are, in fact, present in all of Verizon’s copper service areas, CWA conducted a survey of field technicians who work in non-FiOS areas of Pennsylvania. Schedule JJG-2 provides the results of the survey. I won’t repeat everything in that Schedule, but field technicians from throughout the Commonwealth reported that Verizon is neglecting its physical plant in non-FiOS areas by, for example, failing to authorize the repair or replacement of defective copper cable; using unprotected indoor service wire as a work-around instead of replacing defective cable; refusing to repair copper cable and instead installing VoiceLink at customers’ premises… and virtually eliminating many types of preventive maintenance programs, such as air pressure testing and battery checks…

[W]e are seeing increasing numbers of dissatisfied customers whose service goes out when it rains or who simply have no dial tone at all. We know the reasons why — the cable is bad and needs to be replaced; air pressure systems are not working property; and backup batteries are not replaced when they wear out. But we are powerless to make the changes that would provide good service to customers because Verizon is not willing to spend the money, or hire the people needed, to repair the service. Instead, we’re told to install VoiceLink for voice-only customers and allow the copper network to deteriorate even further.

VoiceLink is a voice-only wireless service that doesn’t allow for DSL, and doesn’t support security alarms or pacemakers the way copper lines did. Moving customers away from copper is something the FCC has broadly sanctioned, though it requires telecoms to seek permission before shutting down copper networks. There are multiple advantages to Verizon in moving away from copper — not only is the infrastructure cheaper, IP-based networks don’t carry the same minimum guarantee of service as POTS (plain-old telephone service) and Verizon faces far fewer regulations as a wireless operator than its old landline business was subject to. Moving customers in rural or poor areas away from copper has other benefits for Verizon as well — it can nudge those customers towards wireless data plans with extremely expensive per-GB data caps rather than offering them comparatively inexpensive DSL service. FiOS, it goes without saying, isn’t available in many of these markets.

The CWA has asked the PPUC to require Verizon to invest in repairing its infrastructure and stop pushing VoiceLink as a permanent replacement for copper lines. Verizon continues to protest that it invests billions of dollars into its wireline networks nationwide.

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