If one talks to a Verizon executive nowadays about their wireless device, Voicelink, one might think they’ve been magically teleported to the future where people walk on air and travel back in time. Verizon‘s VP of External Affairs, Sam Delgado, in a letter to the editor on 8/27, describes Voicelink as one of the “new lifelines of the 21st century.”  Certainly, Verizon is going back in time… to 1999 when the world was enthralled at the future of cell phone technology. However, in 2014 New Jersey needs investment in a robust telecommunications infrastructure for the 21st century, not in an outdated, unreliable device like Voicelink.

Voicelink is a wireless device that Verizon has been foisting onto consumers in New York and New Jersey ever since Superstorm Sandy significantly damaged both states’ landline infrastructure. Verizon is expanding Voicelink even in areas that were not affected by Superstorm Sandy. Despite Verizon’s claims, Voicelink is not an adequate substitute for landlines for a number of reasons. Unlike landlines which allow people to make calls even when the power is out, Voicelink depends on a battery that during a blackout will only last for 72 hours.  Unlike landlines and similar to cell phones, Voicelink’s service is subject to the problem of network congestion  which blocks emergency 911 calls from connecting.  In the event of an emergency, network congestion is more likely as more people are calling for help leading to significant call traffic. Voicelink is even less safe than cell phones however, because if a consumer falls behind on their bill, their account will be suspended and they won’t be able to make 911 calls at all.

Verizon claims that they have “more than met” their obligations to provide affordable and reliable telephone service for New Jersey’s residents. Yet Voicelink is a device that doesn’t work with some medical safety alert devices, deaf relay services, fax machines, or credit card processing machines.  Verizon’s response to these facts is that consumers should go elsewhere if their lives and businesses depend on these devices. Such a response is missing the point. Verizon, as a carrier of last resort, has a duty to make sure that everybody has reliable and affordable telephone service and that Verizon provides those services in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner. By refusing to repair copper landlines, Verizon is essentially forcing consumers to use Voicelink or switch to another company, which narrows the field of competition for these services.

New Jersey residents do need to be brought into the “new lifelines of the 21st century.”  The path to that future lies in investment in robust landline or fiber-optic cable telecommunications infrastructure. It does not lie in outdated technology like Voicelink. 

 

Naved Husain

Consumer Rights Advocate

New Jersey Citizen Action