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From the Publisher's Desk...

The Verizon DC Fiber Optic Scam Revisited

In the Office of Peoples Counsel’s (OPC) September on-line newsletter sent to its thousands of subscribers, the following item, headlined “Verizon Customers: You Have a Right to Keep Copper Landline Telephone Service,” was included:

“OPC continues to receive a number of calls from consumers expressing concerns that Verizon Washington representatives have insisted that they must switch from their copper landline telephone lines to fiber optic cable. OPC reminds consumers that the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) issued a decision In Formal Case 1102 that Verizon must repair a consumer’s copper service when requested. As a result of that decision, a consumer cannot be forced to switch from traditional copper to fiber optic cable.

“If you have been contacted by Verizon about removal of your copper phone lines and you want to retain that service, or if your copper line was removed without your consent, please contact OPC at info@opc-dc.gov, or talk with a Consumer Outreach Specialist at (202) 727-3071.”

As for what occasioned this item to be included, one needs to have a bit of background.

In our January 2018 commentary in this space, headlined “Beware the Verizon DC Fiber-Optic Scam,” we referenced a 2017  “Notice of copper retirement” letter received by all Verizon’s DC copper land line customers which warned, “Our plan is to retire copper facilities in your area on or after March 31st, 2017. To continue to provide your service, [emphasis ours] Verizon will have to move your service to these fiber-optic facilities.”

But that was a very big lie, and as we reported, “just try to tell a Verizon customer service agent — whether from the billing department or (especially) the repair department that you wish not to switch, you will find yourself having to struggle to get them to stop forcing you to listen to their aggressive sales pitches even before you can finish the business of your call. Worse, even, is their adamant insistence that if you don’t opt for the switch to Fios [sic] your service will be summarily cut off without notice.”

Ever since we commented on this scam here at our office and at home we frequently attempted to disabuse those Verizon reps who started in with their aggressive pitch to us that what they were stating was contrary to the 2015 PSC order 1102. There were times when we got serious pushback from reps telling us we were wrong. In one recent, particularly nasty reaction, the rep who had up to that moment been very pleasant, helpful, and professional suddenly lashed out demanding to know “who told you that, what is your evidence?!” It didn’t satisfy her when the PSC’s order was mentioned, whereupon she pulled the plug on he call (thankfully; we were about to do the same).

Why do these Verizon reps continue to harass? And, it seems, Verizon is getting even more insistent. Just recently there was a flurry of direct calls from Verizon’s marketing department; maybe managers there decided more needed to be done than simply rely on the call center reps who obviously are to this day –- despite the PSC’s order – to pressure customers.

And as to what the PSC ordered is clearly stated:

In its final decision on the ‘Retention of Copper Facilities,” in paragraph 438 at page 147, the PSC stated, “Term 9 of the Settlement Agreement [between [the Office of Peoples Counsel and Verizon, dated March 5, 2008] requires that ‘[]ntil FiOS is deployed, and afterwards, Verizon will maintain the copper infrastructure in use and serving customers. The Commission has interpreted this language to mean that as long as Term 9 remains in effect and customers continue to want to receive services over copper facilities, Verizon DC is required [emphasis ours] to maintain the copper infrastructure in use and serving those customers. . . .”

For those who don’t know, the Peoples Counsel (OPC) serves as the public advocate representing the District’s utility customers before the Public Service Commission.  Its staff and lawyers have been, and continue to be, very effective on behalf of the city’s residents and businesses; it is most unlikely that the OPC will agree to withdraw from the Term 9 agreement.

The Commission further noted that the “record clearly shows that Verizon DC [in 2008 was] actively promoting the migration of customers with voice service on copper facilities to . . . fiber facilities. . . . However, a review of the customer service representative and service technician scripts and training materials on the record shows that if a customer requests to retain or return to copper facilities, Verizon DC honors that request, even if it does not encourage it. Thus . . . Commission requires Verizon DC to continue to permit retention [of] voice service or return . . . to copper facilities.”

It is, however, important to strongly note that this optimistic assessment about the goodness of Verizon about all of this is from the still early stages of FiOS — 11 years ago. Clearly, as we have noted above and in our January 2018 commentary, their approach to dealing with con-compliant customers has become ever more aggressive and threatening.

In our view, Verizon is essentially violating the PSC’s ruling –- even defiantly. We don’t know if its attorneys are turning a blind eye and not pressing their client corporation to obey or whether upper management is not pressing field managers to follow the rules.

Whatever the reason, corrective action must be taken and probably the only way for that to happen is for the PSC to hold Verizon in contempt and take appropriate remedial action by levying a serious fine of many millions of dollars or rebates to copper line customers and even holding individual executives in contemp. However things are done, a powerful message needs to be sent to top customer harassment.