FCC Halts Plan to Replace Landline Phone Service in NY, NJ

Photo credit: Pete Prodoehl This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put the brakes on Verizon’s plan to fast track the replacement of traditional landline telephone service in parts of New York and New Jersey with a new, less reliable, wireless option called Voice Link.  Instead of automatically approving Verizon’s application, the FCC has requested more information from the company.

Superstorm Sandy

In October of 2012 Superstorm Sandy, the most destructive storm of the season, devastated much of the Northeast.  Sandy soon became one of the costliest storms in United States History, leaving homes destroyed, power out, and phone lines snapped and flooded.  Now, almost a year later, hundreds in parts of New York and New Jersey are still without landline phone service.  Not only is reliable phone service unavailable, the plan under consideration will replace it permanently with a wireless option called Voice Link.

What’s happening 10 months later?

  • Damaged copper wires that provide landline phone service have not been repaired.
  • A new service called Voice Link, a home phone service that runs over a wireless network, is being offered as a replacement to traditional landline phone service.
  • Voice Link may seem like an adequate alternative to landlines, but there are many necessities that Voice Link can’t currently provide.

Related: What is Voice Link Currently Lacking?

  • Life Alert, medical monitoring systems, and home alarm systems only work on the copper wire network and are not compatible with wireless Voice Link service.
  • The customer’s location information is programmed into the Voice Link unit, if that customer relocates to a new address and the location information is not updated, emergency services could be dispatched to an incorrect address after a 9-1-1 call.
  • Voice Link does not support collect calls, or “0” access to an operator.
  • Voice Link does not support digital subscriber line (DSL) service, leaving families and small businesses that rely on landline service without an affordable option.
  • Voice Link does not work for faxes and credit card transactions, hurting home and small businesses as well as discouraging economic development.

It’s the Law.

The Communications Act of 1934 states:

No carrier shall discontinue, reduce, or impair service to a community, or part of a community, unless and until there shall first have been obtained from the Commission a certificate that neither the present nor future public convenience and necessity will be adversely affected thereby.

Reliable phone service is a lifeline, a necessity for many, specifically seniors who count on it for Life Alert, medical monitoring devices, home security systems, and emergency services.

Bottom line: Traditional landline phone service currently has higher quality, and is more reliable than Voice Link.  That said: AARP is not opposed to new technology. We applaud innovation, but not at the cost of consumer protections and safety – and, consumers should not be denied key features that have kept them safe for years.

We will continue to fight to preserve basic phone service for the elderly and other citizens who rely on it for emergency purposes and to stay connected to their family, friends, and communities.

Follow me on Twitter @RoamTheDomes for more on this important issue. And, to stay up-to-date on our Utilities Campaign in the states, sign up for the AARP Advocate newsletter or visit your state Web page.


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