Verizon Has Only 120 Customers Willing to Use Voice Link on New Jersey’s Barrier Island

After Hurricane Sandy damaged the telephone network on the peninsula, Verizon announced it would reinstate telephone service using Verizon Voice Link — a wireless landline replacement that works over Verizon Wireless’ network. The announcement was not well received by New Jersey residents —customers don’t want the service and after Verizon Wireless experienced a major service outage in Ocean County, N.J. in September, many don’t trust the service to be as reliable as the landlines it replaced.

Mantoloking resident Peter Flihan thinks Verizon delivered its own blow to the island, post-Sandy. Flihan has Voice Link, but after using it he says he wants his old landline back and is very unhappy with the performance of Verizon’s wireless replacement.

“They told us this was the greatest thing in the world,” Flihan told the New York Times.

But the service takes away more than it provides, argue consumer groups including the AARP. Flihan’s old landline worked during power outages, Verizon Voice Link only has two hours of backup battery talk time. Landlines reliably reach 911. Verizon is less confident about Voice Link, going out of its way to disavow any responsibility if a customer cannot reach the emergency number because of technical problems or network congestion. Data services of all kinds don’t work with Voice Link either, even the venerable old dial-up modem. Neither will fax machines, medical monitoring equipment, or home security systems.

Flihan complains Verizon’s Voice Link can’t even reliably manage the function it was designed for — making and receiving voice phone calls.

Flihan told the newspaper roughly 25 percent of the calls he makes through the landline replacement do not go through the first time he dials, or sometimes the second or third. Other times, calls are disturbed with unusual clicking sounds, static, and other voices breaking into the line.

Fire Island residents report Voice Link also misses incoming calls, refuses to ring phone lines and often sends callers straight to voice mail. Others get recordings or busy signals.

Verizon’s attempt to retire landlines in high cost areas has proven to be a public relations debacle for the phone company. More than 1,700 negative comments have been received by the New York Public Service Commission about Voice Link’s performance on Fire Island. Politicians also delivered repeated lashings to the phone company, claiming Verizon was abdicating its responsibilities by seeking to offer second-rate phone service.

In New Jersey, residents at least have a choice. Verizon maintains a monopoly on Fire Island, but in New Jersey it competes with Comcast, which also provides phone service.

Lee Gierczynski, a Verizon spokesman, noted Verizon’s landline business suffered even before Hurricane Sandy arrived. The FiOS-less island has left Verizon with a 25 percent market share. Verizon Voice Link’s numbers are even lower. Gierczynski admitted Verizon Voice Link has only 120 (out of 540 affected customers) signed up on the island.

While Verizon has refused to invest in an upgraded network for impacted customers, Comcast issued a press release announcing major upgrades for the New Jersey shore.

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