Editorial: Warwick shouldn’t have to take Verizon to court over its unreliable service

Friday, January 05, 2018

It’s wrong that Warwick has to resort to paying lawyers to ensure it gets reliable basic phone service for its 800 residents.

The town’s small size is probably the very reason its Selectboard this week had to resort to legal action to correct a problem that scrambled phone connections over the Christmas holiday. For four days over that long weekend, just when residents were trying to call or receive calls from family and friends, many lost service, and others literally had their wires crossed, getting calls aimed at other residents.

This subpar landline service has been a recurring hassle that Warwick residents say they have tolerated for years. They say they feel neglected as Verizon has shifted its attention to wireless and internet business. But the Christmas crash was the last straw for the Selectboard.

Led by Chairman Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne, the board has voted to have Town Counsel Jeremia Pollard take legal action against Verizon by filing a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office.

Pollard was previously involved in reaching a settlement between Verizon and the towns of Hancock, Egremont and Leverett, which had similar complaints in 2010. That resulted in Verizon needing to file quarterly compliance reports with both the Attorney General’s Office and Department of Telecommunications and Cable. Reports are to detail repair work completed that quarter, the input of an outside team of people with appropriate technical experience, why and how Verizon determined what work to do, and the projects planned for the coming quarter. Additionally, Verizon was required to issue monthly service quality reports to both offices for two years, with ratings on seven metrics including its network trouble report rate, problems cleared within 24 hours and appointments missed.

It’s a shame that a town of 800 should have to drag its phone company to court to get service. It’s not like the town has many options. Some people use cell phones, but the availability is not universal, and besides, they shouldn’t have to use such alternatives if they don’t want to or can’t afford to. Verizon is supposed to provide landline phone coverage — service that consistently delivers on its promise.

Lacking reliable service over the holidays, when a large number of people are trying to reach their families, was particularly frustrating for the Warwick community. The phone troubles also posed a public safety risk during “a dangerous time of year,” Pruyne told the Recorder.

Highway Superintendent Larry Delaney explained that during the Christmas-weekend storm, he had no phone service at his home, making it difficult for residents to reach him with roadway problems.

It took four days for the problem to be corrected and even then, at least two residents were reporting issues again by early evening on Dec. 26.

This is unacceptable.

Maybe bringing in the attorney general and the telecommunications regulators will provide Verizon with a more compelling incentive to do its job properly, although it shouldn’t be necessary.

An update in infrastructure might be one fix, but Town Coordinator David Young said that if phone companies like Verizon don’t want to invest in landlines anymore, then they need to figure out another solution — like finding a way to make cell phone service better.

“We really do need to have a telephone system that works,” Young said. And they deserve it, too — every bit as much as larger towns.