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Phone Company Pushing Wireless Over Copper Line

The New York state Public Service Commission has approved a plan by Verizon to eliminate its landline service on western Fire Island off the south shore of Long Island. Critics fear the move seals the fate of the old copper line system.

The telephone has been immortalized in story and song, woven deep into the tapesty of 20th century social culture... but this is the 21st century, and some fear the landline is going the way of carburetors and VHS tapes.

Beginning with Fire Island , Verizon, one of the nation’s bellwether phone companies, is planning to replace traditional copper lines destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with an alternative, wireless system. "Voice Link" will give customers phone service, but not mobile service, and it is not an internet connection. Harold Feld of the communications watchdog group Public Knowledge says it’s unproven.

I called Tom Maguire, Verizon's Senior Vice President for National Operations Support, and asked him to respond to Feld's statement... the call dropped as I was reading it back to Maguire.  In all fairness, Maguire was on a cellphone, not a Voice Link model --- we did reconnect a few minutes later.

Feld says he's talking about storm victims who are struggling to rebuild their lives. He wants reassurance they will have access to the same kind of phone services that they had before Hurricane Sandy.  Furthermore, Feld says he expects AT&T to propose installing the wireless alternative in Oklahoma in the wake of the tornado devastation there. And beyond that?

Bill Ferris of A-A-R-P New York questions Voice Link's reliability during storms and power outages.

Verizon's Tom Maguire says the latest Voice Link units are dependable, reliable and will run on double-A batteries. He adds 330-thousand satisfied customers have been migrated from copper to fiber. Already, Verizon appears to be halting installation of ISDN lines.

Verizon says Voice Link solves the problem of copper wiring failures in places like New York’s North Country where cold and ice affect installations.   Maguire says the quality of voice transmissions is rapidly improving and the days of the dropped call and tinny-sounding wireless phones will also fade from the public memory.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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