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FCC Won't Fast Track Verizon Voice Link in Fire Island

UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 15

The FCC will not let Verizon essentially flash cut from copper wireline to a wireless phone link in areas of New York and New Jersey (specifically some Fire Island communities) where it says its network was devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

The commission on June 28 said it would automatically approve Verizon's request ( by Aug. 27 unless it decided not to.

The FCC said Wednesday (Aug. 14) that it needed more info about the switch-over to the Voice Link wireless service — subs use a home handset but the call is moved from the home phone line to the network wirelessly - and would not automatically grant the request.

The decision came after various complaints about streamlining approval of the service from groups including Public Knowledge and the Communications Workers of America. Public Knowledge has sited what it says are complaints from hundreds of Fire Island residents about voice quality, lack of support for Internet access, medical alerts, security alarms and more.

The FCC said while it was seeking more info from Verizon on its application given the numerous concerns raised about the proposal and whether Voice Link was a reasonable substitute.

Verizon's Tom Maguire, who is overseeing the transition to Voice Link in the affected area, has blogged that while some "older copper technology" including some alarm systems and fax machines are not incompatible with Voice Link, it will evolve to be more "comprehensive." He also pointed out that Verizon Wireless LTE service is also available.

"Voice Link is a very good service that provides a small pool of customers with no landline service, or who experience ongoing service problems and elect to switch to Voice Link, with reliable voice service," Maguire wrote. "On Fire Island, Verizon made the best choice for our customers under difficult circumstances. The alternatives were not acceptable. After Sandy, the western portion of Fire Island was almost like a greenfield development, with little to no infrastructure remaining. Under those circumstances, building what amounts to a new network based on old 19th century technology was not a choice that made sense for our company or our customers."

The FCC still wants more info before it makes a decision, which suits Public Knowledge just fine.

"Now that it has time to carefully consider the issue, the FCC should decline to approve Verizon's application until Verizon can show that Voice Link has become a reasonable substitute for the traditional copper network," said Public Knowledge senior VP Harold Feld. "Until the FCC has ensured that these customers will not continue to be harmed by the limitations of Voice Link, it cannot find that Voice Link is equivalent to the wireline network users have counted on for decades."

"In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Verizon has worked to get voice services restored to those areas of New York and New Jersey hardest hit," Verizon said in a statement. "We have been in regular and ongoing communications with the FCC, and we’ll continue to do so as the FCC considers our 214 filing. We encourage the FCC to complete its review of this narrow petition limited to these discrete communities quickly."