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Public Knowledge is urging the Federal Communications Commission to not let Verizon's Voice Link service get automatic approval before agencies have even finished collecting data and consumer feedback.
Today Public Knowledge officially asked the Federal Communications Commission to take Verizon's application to replace its traditional copper-based network with its fixed wireless Voice Link service off of the FCC's streamlined authorization procedures. Right now, Verizon's application is set to be automatically approved if the FCC takes no action by the end of August, but by that point we won't even have all of the relevant feedback from the public or Verizon yet to inform the FCC's decision. Especially considering what a big deal Verizon's post-Sandy Voice Link deployment has turned out to be, for Fire Island and for any community that could be hit by a natural disaster (hint: all of them), this isn't a decision the FCC should rush to make before it even has all of the facts.
But first, some background: Verizon is now in the process of asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) for permission to permanently replace its traditional copper network with its fixed wireless Voice Link service in Fire Island, NY and Mantoloking, NJ. So far, the FCC has only responded by putting Verizon's application out for public comment, which are due July 29th. If the FCC takes no action by August 27th the application will be automatically approved, but the FCC can also choose to take the application out of this "streamlined authorization" process so the FCC has more time to makes its decision.
Meanwhile, the NYPSC has received hundreds of complaints from Fire Island residents on the failings of Voice Link compared to the copper network customers had been relying on. Customers' outrage seems to be only made worse by the way they was switched over to Voice Link without first having meaningful notice or input into the decision. Response has been so great, and has raised so many issues, the NYPSC decided to extend the public comment deadline to September 13th to get the full feedback of users throughout the summer. The NYPSC is also required Verizon to submit a report on Voice Link's service quality and reliability by November 1st.
Considering that the NYPSC, which is dealing most directly with consumers on the ground in Fire Island, has decided it needs more time to collect public comment, it makes no sense for the FCC to let Verizon's application be automatically approved before the public has even finished giving their comments in New York. This is why Public Knowledge has asked the FCC to take Verizon's application out of its streamlined procedures, collect and review all of the necessary data, and then--and only then--make a decision that ensures customers continue to receive adequate service.
It's even more important that the FCC not treat Verizon's Voice Link application like just an average § 214(a) proceeding because this application presents new issues that could potentially bear on how the FCC will approach similar circumstances in the future, when natural disasters damage infrastructure and the carrier wishes to seize the opportunity to replace the network with fixed wireless or VoIP services instead. This, by the way, is precisely why Public Knowledge thinks the FCC should answer these broader questions in a proceeding that solicits input from all stakeholders to provide guidance for all customers and carriers in the aftermath of a natural disaster. But the meantime, the FCC should at least not send the signal that it is asleep at the wheel by letting Verizon's application get automatically approved before we even have all the facts.
The phone network transition must be handled responsibly. Otherwise, we risk exposing the public to faulty 911 access, unreliable networks, or decreased functionality when it comes to using a communications network that should be one the best in the world. This is why we at Public Knowledge have proposed a framework of Five Fundamental Principles that ensure the phone network will continue to serve the same social needs it always has.
Image by flickr user New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.