New York Orders Verizon To Hand Over Its Records

The groups say the documents could shed light on the question of whether Verizon has deliberately misallocated costs between the traditional wireline network and a new wireless network. The documents could prove—or disapprove—advocates’ contention that Verizon has inflated the economic losses of the traditional network.

A review of Verizon’s claim, which is required by the state’s public records law, found that Verizon failed to prove that disclosure of the records would cause “substantial injury” to its competitive position. The majority of the records requested were deemed not to be trade secrets at all.Verizon has denied the groups’ allegations. It originally responded to the groups’ records request with more than 300 totally blacked out pages, claiming that the material fell under an exemption for trade secrets. The state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, frowns on blanket exemptions.

“The information claimed by Verizon to be trade secrets or confidential commercial information does not warrant an exemption from disclosure, and its request for continued protect from disclosure is denied,” wrote Donna Giliberto, assistant counsel and records access officer.

”We believe the decision is wrong, and we will continue our efforts to protect the company’s competitive information,” a spokesman for Verizon said. Verizon has 15 days to appeal to Kathleen Burgess, the secretary of the New York State Public Service Commission.

Richard Brodsky, an attorney representing the consumer groups said, “it’s a soundly reasoned opinion about an important legal matter that has enormous practical consequences. The company’s policy of withdrawing information from view is clearly subject to case by case oversight.”

Under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, also know as the Public Officers Law, organizations can claim documents that they file with government agencies are exempt from disclosure because the documents contain information that concerns a trade secret or critical infrastructure. When that happens, the state does not review the merit of the claim until a third-party makes a request.

In this case, a request from Common Cause New York, the Communication Workers of America, Region 1, Consumers Union and Fire Island Association prompted the review. The documents in question concern Verizon’s business on Fire Island, a barrier island that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the storm, Verizon sought permission to replace traditional phone service with a voice-only wireless service that did not include data. In addition to DSL and fax machines, medical devices such as pacemakers and home security systems require the ability to transmit data. Verizon ultimately agreed to install a high-speed fiber optic network, known as FiOS, along with its wireless Voice Link service.

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