Verizon Outages Strand Lower Manhattan Businesses 4 Months After Sandy

02/28/2013 04:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 28, 2013

Potential customers don't need to ask whether The Wayland, a chic bar in Manhattan's East Village, accepts credit cards. They can just read the sign -- and sense the frustration -- taped to the door.

"STILL Cash Only. Sorry for the inconvenience," it says. "Thanks For Nothing Verizon (And Hurricane Sandy)."

"I've seen people come up and read the sign and walk away," said Peter Canny, a bartender.

Four months after Hurricane Sandy flooded the streets of lower Manhattan, 94 businesses in the area are still lacking phone and Internet service, according to a new report by the Alliance for Downtown New York. (There are 1,082 retailers overall.) The outages have prevented them from taking delivery orders or swiping credit cards.

The alliance has distributed dozens of mobile credit card readers for businesses waiting for their service to be restored. But some have grown tired of waiting on Verizon, the major telecom provider in the area, and switched to its top competitor, Time Warner Cable.

"The day after the hurricane, Verizon said two weeks," said Andrew Lake, who works at Barnyard, a cheese shop in the East Village that switched from Verizon to Time Warner Cable. "I called back again and they said, 'Wait another two weeks.' I couldn't afford that loss of business."

To be sure, most of lower Manhattan has now returned to normal. More than 90 percent of office buildings, residences, hotels and retailers have reopened, according to the alliance.

Yet the flooding caused by Sandy destroyed 95 percent of Verizon's landline network in lower Manhattan, and the company is still working to replace its aging copper phone lines, which were badly damaged, with new fiber-optic cables that it says will provide faster Internet service and be more resilient to future floods. Time Warner Cable already offers digital phone and Internet service via fiber-optic cables and sustained less damage during the storm.

Verizon officials said last year that service would be fully restored to downtown Manhattan by May, a timeline that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called "not acceptable."

Chris Levendos, head of national operations at Verizon, said Thursday the pace of restoring service was slowed because the company initially lacked enough fiber-optic equipment and was unable to get approval to access some buildings. Given the enormity of the task at hand, the company had made significant progress, he said.

"We've done 20 years of work in a few months," Levendos said.

He said Verizon has offered customers free wireless service while it repairs the network and that every customer would have service restored "over the next two weeks or so."

The remaining outages include the South Street Seaport Museum on Fulton Street, which is still without phone service, and several businesses in an area of Manhattan's East Village called Alphabet City. Monica Pedreros, who works behind the counter at CHP Hardware Store, said the store lacked phone and Internet access for several weeks after the storm.

"Credit cards didn't work and we had to turn customers away because they didn't have cash," she said. "It was very inconvenient."

Two months ago, the store switched from Verizon to Time Warner.

"Verizon said they didn't know when service would be back," Pedreros said. "You can't rely on them. They were not being honest with their customers."

Nearby, Canny said he often sees Verizon employees "working around the clock" beneath the streets outside The Wayland. But the long wait for phone and Internet service has been frustrating, he said. The restaurant's owners wanted to start a delivery service for a sandwich shop they recently opened called Animals, but were forced to rely on word of mouth and passing customers because they lacked phone service. On Tuesday, they got phone service, but are still waiting for Internet.

"Verizon has been jerking us around since the beginning," Canny said. "The first day we were supposed to get service back was Dec. 13, then it was a month after that, then one month after that."

Still, he tries to keep the restaurant's problems in perspective.

"I try to think about the people in the Rockaways and Staten Island who still don’t have homes," he said.

Canny said the bar's owners considered switching to Time Warner, but said it would not have been cost effective. Though Verizon gave the bar a free Wi-Fi hot spot, they feared the service lacked enough bandwidth and would crash on a busy Friday or Saturday night. Canny said they are looking at installing an ATM outside the bar so they don't lose any more customers who don't carry cash.

In the meantime, he is holding out hope that Verizon will restore Internet service.

"They've assured us it's going to be back soon," he said. "We can only keep our fingers crossed."

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