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Fire Island To Get Fios

Verizon this week backed away from plans to use Voice Link technology on Fire Island and will instead replace copper destroyed by Super Storm Sandy with FiOS fiber optic service.

Verizon had essentially asked the FCC to let it flash cut permanently from wireline to Voice Link, a wireless phone link in areas of New York and New Jersey (specifically some Fire Island communities) where its network was devastated by the storm. Verizon used the Voice Link service to get up and running for the summer season without damaging the environment or getting in the way of rebuilding, Verizon has said.

The FCC declined to automatically approve a switchover from wired to wireline service, seeking more info on the switch-over to a service in which 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.

Meanwhile Verizon got plenty of pushback from public interest groups and others, and input from Fire Island residents about the voice quality and access to Internet services via Voice Link.

This week, Verizon said that after talking with those residents, it has decided to deploy fiber to the affected portions of the island, and said it would be ready by summer 2014.

"The main driver of this was simply that our customers told us they were interested in a wider set of services beyond voice - services that no other company was willing or able to provide," blogged Tom Maguire, who was overseeing the "transition" to Voice Link, which will still be offered.

"As a result of this work," he said, "year-round residents, summer rentals, and businesses will have the option of selecting "Voice Link service, traditional telephone service delivered over our fiber network, or FiOS Internet and Digital Voice for their Internet and voice calling needs." Verizon Wireless LTE service is also available.

Public Interest groups and others were lining up to commend Verizon, while pushing it to put more fiber in the ground for fast broadband.

"It's a positive development for Fire Island residents and one that should be repeated in communities across the country," said the Communications Workers of America, which represents the folks who are employed to lay that fiber. "Verizon should expand its investment in fiber optic, high speed broadband, which provides greater capacity for Internet use than wireless systems. That's the only way to ensure that our country has a 21st century broadband infrastructure, one that meets global standards and enables us to compete with the rest of the world."

"We are glad that Verizon has listened to their customers and recognized that at this point in time Voice Link is not an acceptable substitute for copper or fiber," said Public Knowledge. "When communities are struck by a disaster they should be able to count on communications services that are as good or better than what they had before."

The FCC is in the midst of deciding how to facilitate the transition from traditional wireline to IP-delivered services, which raises similar issues of preserving consumer protections--some would call it grafting legacy regs and mandates--in the move away from traditional wireline.