Benson Introduces Bill to Protect Consumers by Blocking Phone Companies from Abandoning Wireline Phone Service in NJ

Wireless transition raises concerns about quality of service for residents and Public Safety Agencies


(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) has introduced a bill to prevent telephone companies from discontinuing traditional phone lines with wireless alternatives for a year until the Board of Public Utilities can investigate its impacts on consumers and public safety. Fixed wireless services can put residents at risk who depend on landline phones as their only source of communication to the outside world or who need it for medical reasons.

“There are still too many unanswered questions and too many scary scenarios to force this change on residents without looking at the potential impact,” said Benson. “What happens in the case of a service disruption? What is a resident with no other means of communication to do, then?”

Some New Jersey and New York communities which had their copper phone lines damaged by Hurricane Sandy are already dealing with the fallout as Verizon, the country’s second-largest landline phone company, is trying to make the switch. In Mantoloking, Ocean County, Verizon plans on replacing copper lines with wireless alternatives, arguing not enough costumers want tradition phone lines to warrant the expense of replacing the copper lines. In New York’s Fire Island, Verizon has already started backing off after public hearings and regulatory reviews revealed major problems.

Just last week, a Verizon Wireless outage left residents in Mantoloking and other Ocean County communities without cellular phone service, leaving residents without a landline temporarily without any way to communicate or call for help in the case of an emergency.

The bill (A-4359) establishes a one-year moratorium on the replacement of copper-based, landline telephone service by local exchange telecommunications companies. The bill also requires the Board of Public Utilities to hold at least three public hearings on the replacement of landline telephone service. There would be one hearing each in the northern, southern and central parts of the state. Following the public hearings and after notice and opportunity for public comment, on or before Dec. 1, 2014, the board must prepare and submit a report to the governor and the Legislature with information regarding the potential impact on customers, rates, public safety and reliability if copper-based, landline telephone service is replaced.

“The recent service outage in Ocean County showed just how vulnerable we are to technology. An emergency can arise at any moment. A company’s bottom-line should not outweigh the safety of residents and our first responders,” said Benson. “Rather than plow ahead with these wireless alternatives, let’s first hear from residents and public safety and figure out what the potential repercussions are. It is best to find that out now, then later when it might be too late to turn back.”

The bill does make exceptions under specific circumstances including after residents receive appropriate notice and consent in writing to such replacement and during a declared state of emergency. Also under the bill, a company may not replace the copper-based, landline service for a public safety agency, unless they receive appropriate notice and information, and consent in writing to such replacement on forms prepared by the Board.