Verizon Reverses Fire Island Stance, Offers Fiber Service

Verizon Communications Inc. is bowing to consumer complaints on New York’s Fire Island over its replacement of storm-damaged copper phone lines with wireless service, saying it will rebuild with fiber optics instead.

Verizon, the second-largest U.S. phone company, says it will now offer Fire Island residents a choice of its wireless Voice Link service, a fiber-optic-based phone plan or a FiOS Internet and voice connection, which also uses fiber technology.

The decision is a setback for Verizon, which was posing Superstorm Sandy-damaged Fire Island as a high-profile test case. The company had sought to establish that it could replace its old copper phone lines with wireless service in places where it’s more expensive to install fiber-optic lines.

Sandy destroyed parts of the narrow, 32-mile barrier beach along Long Island’s south shore last year. In the aftermath, residents said New York-based Verizon was substituting lower-quality Voice Link service for its copper system to avoid the cost of repairs. The damage also knocked out DSL Internet service to many residents in the small island communities.

“We listened to people and looked at different options,” said Tom Maguire, Verizon’s head of national operations support. “Fire Island is very unique. It’s portrayed as a Mayberry RFD. But what we discovered is that it’s a Mayberry RFD with an insatiable appetite for Internet,” he said, referring to the small-town setting of TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Verizon’s decision on Fire Island doesn’t apply to other places where it’s using the Voice Link service to replace old copper lines, such as the Catskill Mountains and parts of New Jersey, said John Bonomo, a spokesman for the carrier.

The company’s disconnecting of copper lines was criticized by community groups, scrutinized by regulators and even fought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“I am extremely pleased that Verizon has backed off its attempt to abandon landline telephone service on Western Fire Island,” Schneiderman said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s a victory for New Yorkers who were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and my office will continue to oppose Verizon’s efforts to substitute landlines with lesser services.”