Coalition of the unbelieving tells CPUC to get the facts about Verizon's copper

5 June 2015 by Steve Blum
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Frontier Communications’ proposed purchase of Verizon’s wireline networks in California can’t be adequately evaluated without investigating the actual state of those networks. Particularly the rural copper plant that Verizon is allowing to rot on the poles. That’s the gist of an unusual joint plea to the California Public Utilities Commission by the CPUC’s own office of ratepayer advocates (ORA), a group of consumer lobbying groups and the primary telecoms union in the state, the Communications Workers of America.

The objective is to short circuit a plan by CPUC president Michael Picker to spike a study of rural copper networks in California. According to the joint statement…

AT&T and Verizon are using the deteriorating network as an opportunity to move customers from a copper network to IP, fiber, and wireless networks that rely on public power (and which offer new opportunities for “upselling” basic service subscribers to more expensive packages and bundles). However, the copper network, if properly maintained, is fully functional during power outages because it has its own power source. The FCC has recognized the carriers’ efforts to engage in this “de facto” copper retirement and proposed rules prohibiting this practice…

Consequently, the statement concludes…

Given this proposed transfer of control in [Frontier’s application to buy Verizon’s networks], it is absolutely paramount to conclude an investigation of the physical network to determine whether Verizon bears responsibility for the neglect of the network before the transfer is approved. If the study ordered in this proceeding is not completed by the time this application is decided, then the Commission must not preclude an investigation into the state of Verizon’s networks.

The consumer groups, ORA and CWA all have their own axes to grind. But their interests don’t always naturally run in parallel. I’m predisposed to treat union claims skeptically, and particular any that boil down to our work is crap and it’s the phone company’s fault. In this case, I think they’re right, but no one has to take anyone’s word for it: all the CPUC has to do is go out and get the facts for itself.