For example, after Hurricane Sandy damaged the existing copper network in communities on the East Coast, Verizon decided to replace its copper-based service with a fixed wireless service called Voice Link in certain areas. Voice Link works by connecting a device linked to Verizon's wireless network to a customer's house. It is now clear that Voice Link constitutes a substantial step backward for many of the permanent residents in Fire Island, New York, hundreds of whom have already complained to the New York Public Service Commission. As a wireless service, Voice Link does not offer the same reliability and quality of service that the copper did, and it requires the customer to remember to recharge or replace its batteries to function during a power outage. Verizon specifically disclaims liability if it negligently lets the wireless network become too congested for 9-1-1 calls to go through. And, unlike the copper network, Voice Link does not support important features like Life Alert, other medical alerts, security alarms, internet access, credit card processing, calling cards, and collect calls. n7
Even a quick glance through the New York State Public Service Commission's public comments and press reports reveals how much these changes are impacting real customers' lives:
* R. Bruce Minoff, among many other customers, complains that wireless service in his family's area is spotty, so they now have no option at all for reliable phone service.
* Dr. Samuel J. Mann complains that he cannot reliably receive emergency calls from his hospital now, while other families, like Sonia Gluckman, are worried that they will not be able to reach a doctor if their elderly parents need urgent medical care.
* Mr. and Mrs. Howard Bedell express concern that their father cannot use Voice Link for Life Alert or to remotely connect pacemakers and other medical devices to their hospitals, as they previously could using Verizon's copper network.
* Customers--particularly small business owners like realtor Jean Ufer--report that they can no longer turn to uncapped DSL internet access for approximately $30 per month, and instead pay $80 per month for just 10 GB of data on a 4G wireless connection. Even outside of the office, Ms. Ufer also noted that the switch to Voice Link has prevented her husband from having his pacemaker remotely monitored, as he used to over the copper line.
* Jonathan Randazzo, who owns five restaurants and businesses on Fire Island, had his credit card machine stop working on a recent Saturday evening. According to the Washington Post, Randazzo "hopped from table to table, scribbling credit card numbers and asking for signatures he created on a Word document printed out from his computer." n8
Every day more complaints come in; it is clear that customers of all backgrounds are outraged at having been switched to an inferior service with no prior public notice or input. n9
Voice Link is one startling example, but the lessons are by no means limited to Verizon, Voice Link, or Fire Island. This could happen to any community that has ever experienced a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, blizzard, flood, or storm strong enough to damage network lines. We all have a stake in making sure policymakers protect the interests of everyday Americans, especially people trying to rebuild their communities after devastating natural disasters. Hurricane victims cannot become the de facto guinea pigs for the phone network transition--if we have pilot programs for new technologies, they must be transparent and carefully controlled to protect the communities testing the new technology.