The Futurist: Is Verizon Trying To Destroy Our Nation's Telephone Infrastructure?

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Patent Monkey: Fitness Week Edition

It wasn’t so long ago that the only way you could talk to your friend down the block was over a landline. In a flash, nearly the entire world became blessed with the gift of wireless, and cell phones became standard procedure. Today, if one so desires, they can eschew their rotary phone altogether, and go VoIP (if having just a mobile doesn’t cut it.)

Such diversity and choice is great — the availability of multiple technologies should keep prices down and innovation up.

However, unfortunately for freedom-loving technophiles, and just about anybody who wants to order a pizza or call 911 without any hassle, a series of recent developments involving our friends over at Verizon suggests that they are none-too-happy with consumers having such options. In fact, if they keep up what they are doing, it would seem they are not only out to completely monopolize the nation’s telecommunication services, but may even be set on destroying much of our nation’s telephone infrastructure in the process.

In 1944, during the thick of the Second World War, the United States Senate established the Rural Telephone Administration, a group devised with the goal of bringing universal and standardized telephone service to farms and other out-of-the-way nooks and crannies that might not be profitable for Ma Bell to service. Keep this in mind for a minute.

Fast forward to the present, and lets see what Verizon has been up to in the news lately.

First, there’s the court ruling that says that while VoIP provider Vonage and Verizon sort out a fairly messy patent lawsuit, Vonage is forbidden from signing up new customers. For a business that is still likely years away from reaching that plateau of profitability, this is essentially a death sentence.

All talk of a Sprint buyout aside, if Vonage, the largest country’s largest VoIP operator (I’m not counting Skype here) dies, it will be an instant step back for VoIP as a technology, and will almost certainly mean at least a few more years before the entire country ditches their landlines for good.

It’s hard to make an argument that less competition is a good thing for consumers, but this case is made exponentially worse by another recent development. See, it appears that Verizon isn’t just sabotaging VoIP, but is apparently allowing some of the regular old landlines under their stewardship to fall into states of disrepair.

Here in New York, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo just gave Verizon a stern slap on the wrist for failing to repair busted rural lines in a timely matter. The Attorney General’s release states that the law requires Verizon to “repair 80% of phone lines within 24 hours of receiving a repair request.” Lets just let Cuomo’s release speak for itself here:

…the Attorney General’s office analyzed five years of data (2002-2006) and found that Verizon had consistently failed to meet these regulatory standards. Specifically, 20 out of Verizon’s 35 “repair service bureaus” across the State chronically failed to meet the PSC’s standards. These repair bureaus serve a total of 4.8 million customer phone lines, about 62% of Verizon’s New York customers. In total, Verizon failed to comply with the standards 35% of the time, although in some individual bureaus the failure rate was as high as 82% of the time.”

Yep. In some areas in rural New York, Verizon failed to repair busted lines a mind-whopping 82% of the time.

So with the Vonage ruling, it appears that Verizon is attacking the spread of a new technology: VoIP. Now, with this little multi-year study by the the New York Attorney General, it would appear they are allowing the old-school phones to fail as well.

Now lets connect another dot to the mess. Verizon doesn’t like Vonage, and it’s not just because Verizon has it’s own competing VoIP service. Nope. As one of the largest Internet service providers, Verizon absolutely detests when people use bandwidth-sucking services like VoIP (especially if it’s somebody else’s service). The way they see it, every time you make a VoIP call, you are using their infrastructure — their pipes. This is, of course, why Verizon is absolutely positively anti-net neutrality.

So lets carry this all the way to the end. Verizon’s inability to keep their landlines working is made even worse by the fact that rural areas are far less likely to have passable cell phone signals or the bandwidth-heavy Internet needed for VoIP, meaning many of our friends in upstate New York (and likely other areas of the country) are left completely incommunicado. And that’s just not good for anybody.

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