THE BLOG
06/18/2013 03:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 18, 2013

Verizon's Wireless 'Voice Link' as a Replacement of the Wires? The Downgrading and Disconnecting of America's Communications Networks

Imagine waking up after a storm and your wired phone line is dead. You've kept it because the cell phone service isn't reliable or sounds like you are under water. Maybe you really wanted something more reliable in case of an emergency. You check and the burglar alarm isn't working either. You go to your home office and find that the DSL line is out as well.

You walk over to your neighbor's house and their services are also out. You call the phone company and they ask you to 'leave a message'. You keep calling and they tell you that they are not going to fix any of your services; they offer to give you a wireless replacement called Voice Link.

Then they inform you that it can't do DSL, the burglar alarm won't be fixed and they are not liable if your E911 service doesn't work.

Welcome to the future of telecommunications in the U.S.

Last week, Verizon filed with the FCC to be able to replace the existing copper wire with a wireless box called "Voice Link." Verizon has already notified communities in New York, such as Fire Island, and New Jersey, including the town of Mantoloking -- who have been out of service since the Sandy storm, (now six months and counting), that they are not planning on fixing the copper wires.

As we noted elsewhere, there have been customers in the middle of Manhattan, New York City, as well as other parts of the Big Apple who have been out of service since Sandy, and this includes both residential customers as well as small business customers.

However, this is just a tip of a very large iceberg. Verizon has been testing Voice Link in Florida and while Verizon claims this is just a fix for unfixable copper lines, according to the unions Verizon is planning a national campaign to not fix the wires throughout the Verizon territories, intending to push people onto wireless if they call about trouble on the line.

Voice Link is supposed to have been a temporary fix but is now a permanent downgrade.
And this is part of a much larger plan Verizon and AT&T have put into motion to 'abandon' whole areas of the U.S. and force them onto their wireless service -- or not get service. I'll get back to that.

Voice Link Stinks: It Can Not do Basic Data Applications or Provide Reliable E911

Voice Link is like a cell phone from a decade ago -- before there was 'data'. Voice Link is a box put into the home with an antenna, but it can not do almost any data application that is part of the traditional utility-based phone network, commonly called the "PSTN", Public Switched Telephone Networks, or sometimes referred to as "POTS", Plain Old Telephone Service.

Click here to see a comparison of POTS vs. Voice Link.

According to the Verizon Voice Link® Terms of Service, the service can't do basic data applications, including fax or credit card handling or DSL (broadband) or even dial-up Internet service using a modem and a phone line. It can't do medical alert services, it can't do alarm company services and it doesn't let you use a calling card to make cheap calls.

Verizon writes:

  • "The Service is not compatible with fax machines, DVR services, credit card machines, or some High Speed or DSL Internet services,
  • The Service is not compatible with medical alert or other monitoring services.
  • The Device may not be compatible with certain monitored home security systems.
  • The Service does not allow the Customer to make 500, 700, 900, 950, 976, 0, 00, 01, 0+, calling card or dial-around calls (e.g., 10-10-XXXX).
  • The Service does not allow the Customer to accept collect calls or third number billed calls.
  • The Company will not bill any charges on behalf of other carriers. You must have an International Calling Plan in order to make international calls."

And this impacts lots of different customers, from the small business whose fax, DSL and credit card processing no longer works to the home alarm or grandma's home alert service. Even services for the disabled, like deaf-relay, may not work.

No Reliable Emergency E911 Service. Many people keep their land line for emergencies. Verizon claims that "Voice Link offers the same E911 capabilities as traditional wireline service."

And yet, Verizon refuses to take any liability in case the E911 emergency services don't work. Verizon's terms of service states that the E911 call may not go through and the E911 dispatcher may not be able to identify your location based on your phone number, which is standard for all wireline-based E911 service phone lines. Here's a snippet:

"Additional Service Limitations that Apply in the Event that Verizon Cannot Route Your 911 Call Directly to the Appropriate Emergency Service Provider. If, for any reason, Verizon cannot directly route your 911 call to the appropriate emergency service provider, your 911 call may be routed to a Verizon operator. You agree that the operator and/or emergency response center personnel receiving your call may not be able to identify your phone number or the physical address from which you are calling."

The Downgrading & Disconnection of America

Since 2010, Verizon and AT&T have both announced that they are 'abandoning' the copper networks -- i.e. they have stopped upgrading massive areas where they offer phone service and decline to fix the wires, forcing customers onto wireless -- or have them leave.

In AT&T's FCC petition to start the 'transition' to close down the networks, AT&T's press release stated that at least 25% will be pushed onto wireless.

"In the 25 percent of AT&T's wireline customer locations where it's currently not economically feasible to build a competitive IP wireline network, the company said it will utilize its expanding 4G LTE wireless network -- as it becomes available -- to offer voice and high-speed IP Internet services."

Meanwhile, Verizon has also stopped upgrading their networks and they, too, are abandoning their un-upgraded customers. Stop the Cap's headline "Verizon's Long Term Plan to Abandon Wired Landlines/Broadband in Non-FiOS Areas Begins" says it all.

And this is not new. A year ago Verizon stated it would supply their rural areas with 'Home Fusion", commonly called Cantenna' an expensive wireless broadband service. As we noted, Cantenna does not substitute for DSL or Verizon's FiOS as it has bandwidth usage pricing as compared to DSL, which is a flat rate (at least so far).

Remove "Carrier of Last Resort" Thanks to AT&T and ALEC.

But it gets worse. In some states, if your service goes out and there isn't another service to use as a replacement -- tough.

As we wrote, AT&T and the other phone and cable companies, working with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, were able to create model legislation and get ALEC-politician members to push deregulatory legislation through their state legislatures to remove basic customer safeguards such as requiring quality of service standards -- including fixing services after a storm -- or worse, removing the 'carrier of last resort' obligations which require the incumbent utility phone company to supply service to everyone in their territory.

According to NRRI, 25 states have removed some, if not all oversight and regulations on phone service and have passed laws to remove basic obligations like carrier of last resort.

This same model legislation has been used by AT&T as the basis for its FCC petition which requests the FCC to 'sunset', meaning closes down, the utility networks -- the copper networks. The irony is thick as AT&T's entire U-Verse broadband and cable service is based on these same old copper wires. Thus, for AT&T is simply drawing a line in the sand as to who gets and does not get upgraded or who gets service or who doesn't.

One has to wonder whether these draconian laws that have passed will stand up to the screams of customers once a major storm hits their area and the lines go down.

Will Voice Link Start Ringing Some Bells?

Mantoloking and other parts of New Jersey are not going to have their copper wire fixed. But there's a wrinkle -- Verizon had previous state obligations to upgrade the state to fiber optic services and Mantoloking, like the rest of New Jersey, should have had that copper wiring replaced before the storm... oops.

As we wrote, two small towns in New Jersey -- Stow Creek and Greenwich -- were suffering from continuous outages of their basic phone service and they were never upgraded to fiber optics. Verizon, New Jersey had obligations to have 100 percent of the state's utility network upgraded with a fiber optic wire capable of 45 Mbps in both directions, replacing the aging copper networks and to be completed by the year 2010.

Back in 1993, state laws were changed to give Verizon excess phone profits to pay for upgrading the old copper wiring -- and the law is still on the books. After a series of hearings, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities issued a show cause order in 2012 to have Verizon explain why these towns had not been upgraded and to come up with a plan to make these customers whole.

We estimate that by the end of 2013, New Jersey phone customers paid about $15 billion for these upgrades -- as the excess monies have been collected for decades and is built into rates and in the profits of services, like Call Waiting.

Most of the AT&T and Verizon territories and states had similar agreements to upgrade the networks to fiber and though it varies by state, in New Jersey it would seem that Mantoloking and the other towns impacted by Sandy should have already been traveling at high speeds and not on the aging copper wires.

Will Voice Link and its downgrade of telecommunications capabilities in the U.S. trigger a call to investigate Verizon's failure to properly upgrade and maintain the utility networks -- even though they collected billions to do so? Will regulators and politicians ask why AT&T's entire 22 states are still based on copper? Or, how did 25 states remove basic obligations?

Will it take an act of God -- a tornado or a hurricane -- to wake up some states to the loss of customers' rights?

FYI: If you had Voice Link you couldn't read this online because it doesn't support DSL or even dial-up internet via a modem attached to a regular POTS phone line.