Verizon wants to cut landlines, asks "will anyone care?"

Verizon wants to permanently cut landline service to a beach community hit by Superstorm Sandy. This could be the future of phone service for areas that are less profitable to serve.

Landlines are already pretty rare; in fact, more than one-third of Americans rely solely on wireless. But choosing to cut the cord is different from having it cut for you.

Verizon plans to eliminate landline service permanently for hundreds of people living on New York’s Fire Island -- possibly a preview of how hurricanes and superstorms will erode our phone system. Businessweek reports.

The company wants to offer a wireless service -- called Voice Link -- to the western end of the island, instead of replacing the copper wires damaged by Sandy. But this goes beyond one beach community:

There are plenty of places where Verizon and AT&T would rather not replace copper wiring nor lay fiber optic cable to replace it. Instead, they’d rather connect people over the airwaves. This could be the future of phone service for people who live in parts of the country that are less profitable to serve.

Verizon is asking for permission to stop providing landlines in areas where it won’t make money doing so. However, Voice Link falls short. It doesn’t require expensive infrastructure, but other than that:

  • It can’t support broadband Internet, fax machines, some medical devices, or alarm systems.
  • It requires power to operate (possibly a major shortcoming during future storms).
  • The company says that residents can use other wireless services to supplement Voice Link, while acknowledging that this means higher prices.

When asked about the proportion of customers that would lose access to wired phone service, Verizon’s Tom Maguire replied: “I think the more appropriate question is, in 20 years, will anyone care?”

The plans have drawn quite a bit of criticism. Is the company shirking the responsibility it agreed to when it was granted a local monopoly? Phone companies are a kind of public utility, according to New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. They’ve been given subsidies to provide a public service, even when it’s not profitable to do so.

The plans are on hold as state regulators consider the request.

[Via Businessweek]

Image: Daniel Oines via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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