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Wireless may replace phone lines in Sandy-ravaged areas of N.Y., N.J.

Carrier says copper replacement isn't feasible for some Fire Island, N.Y., and Mantoloking, N.J., customers; critics complain to FCC, others

July 23, 2013 08:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal areas in New Jersey and New York last October and left some Verizon Communications customers without copper phone lines.

Verizon offered an emerging fixed wireless technology called Voice Link to those customers, located mainly in Fire Island, N.Y, and Mantoloking, N.J, in lieu of spending millions of dollars to replace the damaged copper lines with copper or fiber optic cable.

The offer prompted hundreds of customers to send complaints that continue to be received by the Federal Communications Commission, the New York Public Service Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

Their chief complaints are that Voice Link provides voice connections, but not data for Internet via DSL over copper as before, doesn't offer fax services and won't work with some alarm systems, including some wearable alarms used by the disabled or elderly.

Customers who lost copper and get Voice Link must consider setting up data services with a cable or satellite provider, or perhaps using a wireless phone as a Wi-Fi access point with a wireless carrier, probably Verizon Wireless.

Voice Link can connect to sets of phones in a home or business with a small 4-in. x 4-in. x 1-in. box that uses an antenna to wirelessly access Verizon's CDMA 1xrtt network, sometimes called 2.5 G wireless.

Verizon produced a short video to describe the technology, noting that some customers like the service.

Some opponents of the move see Verizon's response to Hurricane Sandy as a test case on how the FCC and other public agencies will to treat customers nationwide who depend on aging copper-based telephone networks in an era of expanding wireless technologies. The issue today is most relevant in areas where a natural disaster suddenly knocks out copper-based infrastructure, and where replacing the damaged wires with copper or fiber cables is impractical and/or not in the interest of carriers.

Fire Island residents are "alarmed at the request Verizon has presented before the [FCC] and believe that approving this petition will inflict negative consequences on rural and hard-to-serve communities and consumers, including loss of affordable and reliable basic telephone services, which is the only form of communication many remote communities can access..." said Fire Island resident Jim Rosenthal in a letter sent to the FCC. The letter arrived at the FCC offices on July 17.

Public Knowledge, a public interest group, has filed ex parte opinions before the FCC, urging a broader review of how the the agency weighs cases involving carriers such as Verizon that plan to use alternative technologies to replace copper wires damaged in natural disasters.

The FCC left its public comment period open until July 29. The New York commission also has extended its review until the fall.



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