Internet disconnect

By JEFF INGLIS  |  August 22, 2007

What if the deal failed, and Verizon had to stay (at least until it found a new buyer)? Verizon spokesman Peter Reilly said the company wouldn’t comment on what would happen in the “hypothetical” case that the sale — which must be approved by three states and the federal government — could fall through, leaving us to put the pieces together on our own. The picture isn’t good.

In Maine, Verizon is already the subject of some complaints to the Public Utilities Commission from rural customers about the unavailability of high-speed Internet (including one titled “Request for commission action to implore Verizon to implement the use of DSL” from 21 business owners and 12 residents in The Forks and West Forks, the central-Maine home to the state’s whitewater-rafting industry).

Verizon has made clear its lack of interest in being in the landline phone and wired-Internet business here. If the sale to FairPoint is blocked, Verizon will have no incentive to maintain its services, wires, or anything else — in fact, neglecting its customers and employees will serve to shift opposition to the sale into support as people insist on getting decent service.

Davies says the PUC has “very broad powers” to force Verizon to provide minimally acceptable telephone service, though that may involve going to court if Verizon is reluctant to do what is required. And those powers don’t address broadband service, which is not regulated by the PUC or state law.

Davies thinks that if Verizon tried harder to market its landline and broadband services — and if the company expanded broadband offerings in Maine — the company could do better here. As it is, “they’ve sort of said over the last couple of years, ‘we’re not going to invest in the state,’” Davies says.

Seeing the light
And while FairPoint talks a great game about how they will bring outdated, slow DSL to rural Mainers who are still stuck on dial-up, they’ll have to spend a lot more than they’re expecting, to do even that.

There is no outside evaluation of the condition of the wires Verizon would transfer to FairPoint (it’s protected as a company secret), but there are people who have a good idea of what they’re like.

McLaughlin, whose union members maintain the lines, estimates that FairPoint should expect to spend “a couple hundred million” dollars just to repair the existing copper wires to a condition where they can handle DSL traffic.

“Publius,” a pseudonymous Verizon employee who started the VerizonVsFairPoint.com Web site to distribute information about the sale, says FairPoint is dreaming if they think it will be relatively cheap to improve service in northern New England.

“There is absolutely no way” that the installation of the equipment FairPoint is talking about would, on its own, bring broadband to the rural masses, says Publius, who withholds his real name for fear of losing his job.

The wires are in terrible condition, he says, many having been in place for decades and repeatedly spliced back together after wind or trees or car crashes knocked them down. Not all of those splices (of between 1000 and 2000 tiny 22-gauge copper strands in each wire) are perfect, as you might imagine, and there are plenty of places — such as the Concord, New Hampshire, neighborhood discussed in an August 2 Concord Monitor article — where the combination of age and bad connections means that Verizon phone service cuts out whenever it rains.

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