VAN DREW AND ANDRZEJCZAK CONTINUE TO FIGHT TO IMPROVE TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN WESTERN CUMBERLAND COUNTY : News Room : The Van Drew Team for Change : Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land
VAN DREW AND ANDRZEJCZAK CONTINUE TO FIGHT TO IMPROVE TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN WESTERN CUMBERLAND COUNTY
Lauren T. Taniguchi/The News of Cumberland County The News of Cumberland County
STOW CREEK TWP. — Local residents put their complaints regarding Verizon’s services on the record Wednesday night at a public hearing held at Stow Creek Township Elementary School.The hearing followed an order by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) initiating an investigation and review of Verizon’s services, and residents from Stow Creek, Greenwich and other communities in Cumberland and Salem counties showed up ready to be heard.
“To stop short of 100 percent broadband deployment based on low population densities effectively stunts the potential growth of the agricultural sector of New Jersey’s economy,” said Barbara Stratton of Stow Creek, noting that proximity to Artificial Island also creates public safety and potentially homeland security issues.
Sensitive areas such as ours should be in the first 1 percent, not the last,” Stratton said.Residents Patrice and Robert Sharkey brought up the issues of humming phone lines, hearing other people’s conversation on their phones, lengthy response times to service requests and dropped service when repairs were happening in their neighborhood. Bonnie Bennett of Greenwich even offered Verizon the use of her high-point property for a cellphone tower, pointing out the company currently is charging her “300 damn dollars a month and for what?” She shared a story of taking an injured motorcyclist to the hospital herself after being unable to reach 911 on her cellphone.Sen. Jeff Van Drew claimed he had “never seen a more under-served area in New Jersey than where we stand right now,” noting that western Cumberland County was in better shape half a century ago, when the landlines there were functioning.“For this area, if FiOS was put in place, it would answer issues with telephone service, with Internet service and the ability to communicate for emergencies,” Van Drew said. “Particularly here it should be a high priority. It is a matter of life and death.”John Klug, superintendent of Greenwich-Stow Creek Partnership Schools, reported that the schools have not had reliable Verizon land line service since April 27. During that time, a mother was frantically trying to make arrangements for her children to get home safely when she couldn’t pick them up on time, but she couldn’t reach the school since the land line was down, and the school couldn’t reach the bus driver since he had no cellphone service while driving in Greenwich.Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, a technology teacher at Morris Goodwin School in Greenwich, asserted the partnership school students are “on the wrong side of the digital divide.” Riley summarized the four main points surrounding the problems as reliability, safety, education and economic development. Curtis Homan of Stow Creek spoke on the fire company’s need for reliable phone and Internet service, and Stow Creek resident Ann Budde even confessed that, though she’s a Catholic, Verizon’s poor response to her service requests had frustrated her enough to use “the F word.”From a non-enviable position, Paul Sullivan, Verizon’s region president responsible for sales, service and field operations for all Verizon wire line customers in the state, offered his “sincere apologies” to any customer who has had service trouble — though met with a wave of laughter from the crowd.Sullivan said that Verizon’s analysis of the network serving Greenwich had determined that the four cables serving the township required rehabilitation. A team of technicians responded with more than 720 hours in Greenwich and “a significant investment” in a Proactive and Preventative Maintenance Program to replace bad cables and rehab and replace splices, pedestals, wires and terminals — including every splice on every cable in Greenwich.He reported that similar maintenance and repair work was underway on Gum Tree and Jericho roads to replace defective pairs, which should be completed by the end of May.However, Richard Spieler, executive board agent for Southern Unit 5 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 827, said, “The reason for this lack of service is clear to those of us who work in this industry: Verizon has failed to maintain its copper land line service and stopped building out its fiber-optic FiOS network because the company has decided to become only a wireless service provider, not the provider of basic telephone service that used to be its core mission.”The IBEW Local 827 represents over 5,500 members working in New Jersey’s telecommunications industry with Verizon as one of its largest employers, Spieler said, and workers stood “ready to complete the FiOS fiber-optic network that Verizon promised to deliver.” He claimed customer needs were being “sacrificed for corporate greed” such as a tripled salary, to $23 million, for the Verizon CEO.“The Verizon statewide franchise is up for renewal in 2012, so the time for the BPU to make sure that Verizon delivers what they promise for New Jersey is right now,” Spieler said.Furthermore, Greenwich resident Mark Showers requested BPU “fine Verizon so severely they have no choice but to replace the decrepit lines they have not replaced in years with FiOS.”Beyond the communities in western Cumberland County, Salem County also was well represented by Upper Pittsgrove Township Mayor Jack Cimprich and residents James Colby, David Ewart and Naomi Drummond, among others. Each voiced concerns with land line, cellular and Internet services, and Cimprich said Salem and Cumberland counties shouldn’t be penalized for “keeping the garden in the Garden State” with farmland preservation that contributes to the less dense populations than in northern parts of the state.BPU Commissioner Nicholas Asselta, presiding officer, concluded the hearing with an explanation that a transcript of the proceedings would be made public “fairly quickly” and distributed to the commission members. “We’ll review it and with telecommunications staff we’ll come to some conclusions, and we’ll act appropriately in a pretty quick manner,” Asselta said.
Asselta said the public was welcome to submit their input on these issues until May 16 to Kristi Izzo, secretary of the board, at 44 South Clinton Ave., 9th floor, P.O. Box 350, Trenton, N.J. 08265-0350, or by email to [email protected].
Comments should be identified with the heading, “I/M/O the Board’s Review of Verizon New Jersey, Inc.’s Service Quality Issues — Docket TO12020156.”
Contact Lauren T. Taniguchi at 856-451-1000, ext. 419 or [email protected].