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Striking workers and allies in front of Verizon's Customer Sales and Service office in Bloomsburg, Pa. (Photo: Betsy Derr)

Verizon Accused of Deceiving Customers as Historic Strike Perseveres

Verizon's fiber-optic cable policy proves 'only profits—not customer service—motivates this company,' says union

Deirdre Fulton

Three weeks after roughly 40,000 Verizon workers began a historic work stoppage to protest the "corporate greed" of the telecom company, the union behind the strike joined pubic interest groups in charging Verizon with "systematically deceiving customers" as part of its push to transfer users from copper telephone wires to fiber service.

The informal complaint (pdf) to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was filed Tuesday by Common Cause, Public Knowledge, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and several other groups.

It charges that the internal Verizon policy known as "Fiber Is the Only Fix" both deceives customers and constitutes "unjust and unreasonable practices" that violate federal law. It also alleges that Verizon has been giving retail customers as little as 15 days notice before ending their copper service, when FCC rules say they must be given at least 90 days notice.

A press statement from CWA explained:

When a "Fiber is the Only Fix" customer calls in with trouble on their line—such as no dial tone or noise on the line—Verizon creates a "ghost" service order to transfer the customer to fiber service. The service order is called a "ghost" service order because the customer is not told about it.

Verizon then dispatches a technician on the ghost service order. The technician is instructed not to discuss the purpose of the dispatch prior to arriving at the customer’s location. At that time, the technician informs the customer that Verizon no longer repairs copper lines, and the customer must upgrade to fiber. If the customer does not want to upgrade to fiber, Verizon will not allow the technician to repair the copper line and advises the customer that Verizon will disconnect the line.

A Verizon official confirmed to the New York Times that "the company writes up a 'ghost' service order to switch a customer's service before it sends a technician to investigate a problem. The company even uses a ghost icon that resembles a character in the Pac-Man video games to indicate that the company hopes to make the switch."

Tuesday's complaint is the latest salvo in the public relations campaign against Verizon, which is accused of shipping jobs overseas, strong-arming organized labor, and failing to provide high-quality service.

"By instituting this reprehensible policy to deceive customers, Verizon executives proved that only profits—not customer service—motivates this company," said CWA president Chris Shelton, referring to Fiber is the Only Fix.

"Verizon executives violated the law and are forcing our members to join in a program they strongly object to," Shelton said. "With this complaint filed today at the FCC, we are standing up for our customers, just as we are standing up for them every day on picket lines from Massachusetts to Virginia."

Last week, YouGov's Brand Index indicated that as a result of the strike, "consumer perception of the telecom giant has fallen to a three-year low," as TIME magazine reported.

The deterioration in service has become so significant that New York State's Public Service Commission has convened a formal hearing to investigate problems across that state, while regulators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have launched similar inquiries into Verizon's operations in recent weeks.

Last week, Verizon announced that the company has put its "last, best and final offer" on the table to members of the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Unfortunately, said CWA, the company's "last and best" was little more than the "same old bullshit."

Organizers have announced that Thursday, May 5 will be a national day of action in support of the striking workers.

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