Verizon Voice Link Targeted By New Jersey Coalition

By John Celock

As New Jersey’s political and business establishment speeds towards Washington, D.C. for a full day and night of networking, one group is urging that they support a bill to block a wireless technology being offered by Verizon.

Don’t Hang Up New Jersey is using the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce “Walk to Washington” train trip and dinner to oppose Verizon’s plan to switch communities on the Jersey Shore to Verizon Voice Link from copper based lines. Verizon first proposed the switch in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated Jersey Shore communities. The group’s plans include a new web video opposing the change and leaflets to Chamber trip attendees urging support for bills in the state Legislature to block the change.

“With Superstorm Sandy much of the infrastructure was washed away. Every other utility came back after the storm and replaced their service,” retired AT&T executive W. Kenneth Lindhorst said in Don’t Hang Up New Jersey’s video. “So far Verizon has refused, instead they offered Voice Link service. It is an old technology I worked on a similar service with AT&T in the 1990s and it wasn’t state of the art then.”

In the video Lindhorst paints a picture of customers seeing telephone service rates go up with the service, which is not regulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. In addition Lindhorst says that the Voice Link service would not be compatible with point of sale credit card machines used by small businesses or with medical equipment

Lindhorst stressed the unregulated part of the service, saying it would allow for costs to go up for consumers.

Verizon has been fighting back, releasing their own web video explaining the benefits of the service. In the video, Thomas MacNabb, Verizon’s director of operations, said that service “costs the same or less.” He also says that the system is needed to upgrade customer service.

“For about 100 years copper has been a part of telecomm. It has been a great run but in some situations it does not provide a reliable service to our customers,” MacNabb said in the video. “Copper lines are susceptible to corrosion and are no where near as reliable as fiber optic cable or wireless technology.”

MacNabb said in the video that the change will have benefits for all types of weather.

“It’s all about giving our customers the best possible service,” he said. “We understand it is frustrating when there are interruptions in service when it is raining or nasty and wet weather.”

The Don’t Hang Up New Jersey leaflets came Thursday morning at Penn Station in Newark, N.J. as people started to board the Chamber of Commerce’s chartered Amtrak train to Washington. Prior to the train trip, Verizon hosted a breakfast to kick off the day in Newark.

The annual Chamber of Commerce “Walk to Washington” brings together the Garden State’s political and business establishments for a daylong series of networking events. Starting with breakfasts in New Jersey and then the train trip, the day culminates in a speech by Gov. Chris Christie (R) Thursday night in Washington followed by more networking in the lobby bar of the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel in Washington.

The legislation blocking the move has been passed by the state Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and is pending before the full Assembly. A similar bill is pending in the state Senate Economic Growth Committee. Both bills have a bipartisan list of sponsors.

In his video Lindhorst said that Verizon is not helping out customers. He stressed the need for government to step in.

“They come in with the implication that they are upgrading services in the neighborhood. They do not tell you that they are switching from a regulated basic to an unregulated service,” he said. “They don’t like to be regulated by government. They don’t like their customers to be protected by government.”