Tag: "natural disaster"

Posted June 25, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

We welcome Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge back to the show to discuss the latest update in the so-called IP Transition. Back in episode 32, Harold explained the five fundamental protections needed for our telecommunications system.

Today he returns to discuss the ways in which some of the islands devastated by Sandy are being turned into Verizon experiments as Verizon refuses to rebuild the copper phone number or upgrade to fiber; instead Verizon is installing an inadequate substitute, as we covered in this story.

Harold explains why this turn of events in New York and New Jersey is an important harbinger for the rest of us and why states should not premarturely deregulate important consumer protections like carrier of last resort and public utility commission oversight.

Read the transcript from this show here.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 19, 2013 by Lisa Gonzalez

Victims of Sandy are still recovering from the killer storm that ripped through the east coast last year. Two places hardest hit by the "Frankenstorm" were Fire Island, New York and the Barrier Island in New Jersey. In addition to homes and property, residents lost phone and Internet communications when telephone wires went down. They are still waiting to be reconnected.

Our readers know about the huge fight that has embroiled consumer advocates and the leading telephone providers in the past few years. AT&T and Verizon seek deregulation to escape the "carrier of last resort" obligation that requires maintenance of traditional copper lines for telephone service. AT&T and Verizon want to shed that responsibility in favor of wireless service that is less expensive to maintain, even though it does not support the range of uses today's copper networks do. 

Verizon is the incumbent telephone provider in Fire Island and Barrier Island but decided it will not repair damaged lines. It wants to instead deploy its inferior Voice Link wireless service on the island.

The Voice Link technology basically attaches to your house and uses Verizon's cellular network to connect the telephones in your home. Homeowners can continue to use their home phones, but the quality tends to be worse than on a proper wired telephone network. 

Under federal law,  telephone providers are obligated to replace or repair downed copper lines unless they substitute with a "line improvement," such as fiber-optic lines. Voice Link cannot be described as a "line improvement" - the only benefit it provides is that it costs Verizon less to build and maintain. 

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Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge recently pointed out some of the many shortcomings of Voice Link, as revealed on Verizon's own Terms of Service. The people most harmed by this scaled back service include the people who, in one way or another, are most vulnerable. Harold Feld, also...

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Posted January 9, 2013 by Christopher Mitchell

From the "A Pox on Both Your Houses" files, Verizon is squaring off against greedy landlords in New York City as it tries to fix lines damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

In short, Verizon needs access to the common areas of the multi-dwelling units (MDU or industry-speak for apartments) to fix or upgrade the lines. Verizon is using these repairs as an opportunity to transition connections from copper to its fiber optic FiOS system.

AT&T and Verizon have been arguing that once a household transitions from a copper connection to FiOS (in the case of Verizon) or U-Verse (in the case of AT&T, which actually hasn't even changed the copper connection), they are using a fundamentally different, less regulated service. My conversation with Bruce Kushnick delved into some of these claims.

Verizon's copper to fiber upgrade could actually therefore be an accountability downgrade if regulators agree that households deserve fewer protections on connections over fiber than over copper. This appears to be a major fight brewing -- how to regulate the same services over different types of connections.

And this is where it gets interesting. Verizon, AT&T, and the other big cable/telcos are constantly arguing for deregulation, saying that the market is so competitive that the government should just get lost.

But then Sandy rips through and landlords (that I have ZERO sympathy for) see an opportunity to shakedown Verizon. After all, Verizon is going to use the new connections to increase revenues from these households by selling more services (triple play over fiber). This seems a perfectly reasonable deregulated market showdown.

Crying Verizon

But Verizon immediately goes crying to the state regulators: "The landlords aren't playing nice, force them to let us into their buildings!"

Anyone who still believes competitive or free markets are synonymous with unregulated markets is fooling themselves. Big firms use deregulation or regulation in their attempts to corner and monopolize markets. They only favor less regulation when they perceive an immediate benefit to the bottom line....

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Posted November 4, 2012 by Lisa Gonzalez

We recently came across a post by Seth Clifford, a blogger whose parents' house in New Jersey was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and is still in danger. In this time of climate change, when humans no longer know waht to expect from Mother Earth, it can be comforting to have a few solid truths on which to rely.

In this case, however, that solid truth isn't comforting at all. From Seth:

She was trying to explain to them that they stood to lose the entire house in an explosion and that the authorities were having trouble even reaching the area to cut the gas to prevent this. She mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to return the cable box and equipment because the storm had basically destroyed the area, and the house was perilously close to being destroyed completely as well.

Comcast’s reply to her?

We’re very sorry, but the price of the equipment will be charged to your account if you’re unable to return it.

That’s right: in the middle of a natural disaster, the worst our area has seen in decades, at a time when my parents have already lost one house and stand to lose the other, as well as everything in it (remember, it’s not a rental so it’s fully furnished and they live there for part of the year – there are family keepsakes, antiques, and the like) – at a time like this, Comcast has essentially told my mom “tough shit”.

We only wish that reporting this story was shocking, surprising, and rare but it isn't. Unfortunately, we see reports like this on a regular basis. Responses are also usually scripted and go something like this response to the Consumerist, which requested a comment:

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We have already reached out to apologize for adding to his parents’ difficulties and to ask for his parents’ contact information so we can call to personally apologize and assure them that we are handling the equipment without the need for them to...

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Posted April 2, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

When a tornado rips your town apart and destroys your home, should you have to pay extra fees to your cable provider? Of course not. But we continue to see these news stories about massive cable companies ripping off people who are just trying to find the energy to get by day to day.

Last year, we saw reports about Charter Cable telling Alabama tornado victims they had to "find" their cable boxes or pay for them.

According to the friend, Glenda Dillashaw, a Charter representative told her that Spain would need to find his cable box or be charged $212 for its loss.

Fortunately, when Spain followed up with Charter after receiving another bill, the representative told him not to worry about it, suggesting that either Charter has an ambiguous policy to deal with it or Spain found a customer support person who's heart had not yet been crushed by soul-numbing job of being a customer support representative for a massive cable company.

At least one other company has a formal policy in place for these situations:

Bright House Networks, whose service area includes hard-hit Pratt City, also expects its customers to file claims under homeowners' or renters' insurance to pay for lost or destroyed cable boxes. "That's how we normally handle it," spokesman Robert L. Smith said.

Fascinatingly, an article in Michigan claims Comcast does not have a policy in place for these situations. Following recent tornados in Michigan, Comcast customers who lost their homes were given the option of paying a cancellation fee or paying a reduced "vacation" rate for a service they could not use.

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Katherine Pfeiffer and Kathy Crawford soon found that residents were being told that they would be responsible for damaged or lost cable boxes and modems.

Initially residents were told their accounts with Comcast would be put on “vacation” status, where a monthly fee of between $15 and $20 would be charged.

Comcast is supposedly "working on a solution" for these people.

The hubris of this massive companies is unreal. People who are waiting to hear if their home is repairable or has to be destroyed should not be confronted by the...

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Posted November 7, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Rob Cox, a writer for Reuters, has delved into the disappointing response of some investor-owned utilities in Connecticut following the recent blizzard, noting the better performance of muni power companies. Hurricane Irene recently revealed the similar superiority of muni electrics compared to the investor-owned in Massachusetts, prompting us to note the parallels with Wired West's initiative in Western Massachusetts. They have created an electric light coop to build a next-generation fiber-optic network out to everyone in the area.

And on the same day that Longmont embraced locally owned broadband in Colorado, nearby Boulder started the process of kicking Xcel out in favor of an electric grid that is accountable to the public.

So let's see what the New York Times has to say about municipal ownership of infrastructure. They begin by noting the many ways Connecticut Light and Power (the subsidiary of Northeast, an investor owned utility presently consolidating with another large IOU) has cut its maintenance spending over the last few years -- leaving many more power lines vulnerable to the tree-bending blizzard.

There’s even a near-perfect model of how Connecticut Light and Power could have done the job better. Norwich, Conn., a city of 40,000, has owned its own electric utility, as well as those for sewage, gas and water, for 107 years. Norwich Public Utilities’ customers pay, on average, a bit less than Connecticut Light and Power’s. Yet after this past weekend’s snow dump, power was out for only about 450 of its 22,000 customers — and for no more than an hour. As of Thursday morning, nearly half a million Connecticut Light and Power customers were still waiting for the lights to go on.

That’s not luck, either. After Irene hit, just 13 percent of the city’s customers lost their power for more than a day. Within three days, the whole of Norwich had been restored. It took more than a week for Connecticut Light and Power to fully restore power.

To reiterate, the publicly owned system is cheaper, more reliable, and responds more quickly...

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