Victory on Fire Island

Posted on September 12, 2013

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We've been following the developments in Fire Island, New York, for months. Superstorm Sandy destroyed much of the telecommunications infrastructure there, and Verizon, the local telephone operator chose not to rebuild its land-line service in much of the area. Instead, the company shifted 500 Fire Islanders over to an inferior product called Voice Link.

Customers didn't have a choice -- they were assigned a product that lacked many basic features -- Voice Link cannot receive collect calls in case a friend is in need; it is incompatible with heart monitors that seniors rely on; small businesses cannot use it process credit cards or faxes. Yet it cost about the same as traditional phone service!

We are hard at work promoting quality, affordable connectivity for all Americans. We've said all along that we cannot let firms like Verizon foist substandard service on consumers, least of all disaster victims. Common Cause/New York held a town hall where residents voiced their frustration with the insufficient service, "No one asked us to join this grand experiment," said one person in attendance.

Hundreds more voiced their dissatisfaction with comments at the New York Public Service Commission. Public interest allies Public Knowledge and AARP spoke out against Verizon unilaterally moving customers to the inferior Voice Link.

Bowing the pressure from public interest groups, local elected officials, and regulators in Washington and Albany, Verizon just announced that they will build fiber optic service to the affected Fire Island residents. Voice Link will be an option for customers who choose it.

Verizon did the right thing here, but only after advocates and policymakers held their feet to the fire. Consumer protection and universal service are common sense policies, and shouldn't require mobilizing cadres of grassroots activists and politicians applying thumbscrews.

Which is why we need public interest leadership at the FCC and strong consumer protection measures from our legislators.

Follow @coppsm and @ttoboyle for the latest from the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Media and Democracy

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