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Hear Us Now? Verizon vs. Rules & Regulations

Composite image by Dave Lucas/WAMC

Verizon has lost one small battle with government regulators, but the internet arm of the telecom giant continues its fight to create so-called "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" on the net.

Verizon is making world headlines as it takes on nearly $50 billion in new debt in a massive bond sale to purchase Verizon Wireless from Vodaphone for $130 billion. Consumer watchdogs fear customers will be forced to pay for that debt: copper phone lines are very expensive to repair, and the internet is still largely unregulated.

Using devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy to support its case, Verizon made a move to discontinue standard landline service on Western Fire Island at the southernmost portion of New York State. The company's VoiceLink service would have been the only choice for customers. Critics cited numerous drawbacks to VoiceLink, pointing out the service does not support internet or fax communications, and requires battery power to operate consistently. The state Attorney General's office intervened to stop the carrier from limiting its offerings. Attorney General Eric Schneidermann calls it a "victory" for New Yorkers.

Opponents contend that by setting precedent on Fire Island, Verizon can quickly apply the methodology to any other disaster area in the country in order to shutdown landline-based services while abandoning portions of the copper line infrastructure.  Verizon has agreed to give subscribers a choice of VoiceLink or voice over fiber at the same price as what they paid prior to Hurricane Sandy.

Protests were scheduled for Thursday afternoon outside Verizon's Internal offices at 20 South Hamilton Street in Poughkeepsie, pushing for the NYS Public Service Commission to stop Verizon trying to "spread" VoiceLink across New York.

State Senators Bill Larkin, George Maziarz and Terry Gipson have proposed legislation supported by Communications Workers of America, Working Families Party and the AARP calling for a moratorium on Verizon's installing Voice Link throughout NYS and replacing landlines with wireless.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill's companion legislation has already passed in the Assembly.

In another matter, the communications firm is making its case to loosen government regulations and allow some deep-pocketed content providers to use faster speeds, creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet. Critics argue that this attack on “net neutrality” will result in both economic and racial discrimination.

Verizon wants to overturn so-called “Net Neutrality” protections so that broadband providers can start charging companies like Facebook, Google and Netflix to reach customers.

On Monday at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for Verizon and the Federal Communications Commission faced questions from three judges who will decide whether the FCC’s Open Internet Order stands.   Jennifer Yeh  of the Massachusetts-based advocacy group Free Press was in the courtroom. She warns the three-judge panel could overturn what's known as "the Open Internet Order."

amalia deloney is the Grassroots Policy Director at the Center for Media Justice in California. If the court decides to relieve the FCC of some of its ability to oversee the internet, she says that could result in certain groups and social classes being blocked from the web.

Critics fear that consumers would also have to bear any added costs involved in splitting services. The case is on track to be decided sometime around the holidays.

Click HERE to listen to the oral arguments in Verizon vs. the FCC .

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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