N.J. senator wants legislature to join South Jersey residents fighting Verizon

Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May Court House. (Mel Evans/AP File Photo)

Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May Court House. (Mel Evans/AP File Photo)

New Jersey Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, is drafting a bill to allow the legislature to join a group of rural South Jersey towns asking the state to investigate Verizon over reported problems with phone and Internet service.

In November, sixteen towns in Cumberland, Atlantic, Salem, and Gloucester counties asked the state Board of Public Utilities to look into the company’s phone and Internet service offered over aging copper wires.  The towns claim Verizon has let those wires deteriorate.

“[Legislation] would give more gravitas, it would give more strength and more power to the legal action itself,” said Van Drew. “It’s something that certainly I believe will be helpful.”

Verizon has repeatedly said it has spent millions of dollars maintaining its copper wire infrastructure in South Jersey.

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But Van Drew said inadequate and often nonexistent phone and Internet service in South Jersey is unfair and possibly dangerous for residents, business owners, and emergency crews who rely on it.

“I’ve spoken on their landlines directly and been in their houses, and it’s not acceptable,” he said.

At last count, an online survey posted by Cumberland County had received more than 300 complaints of landline and Internet service quality issues in South Jersey, including from residents who live outside the 16 towns that requested the investigation.

According to Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, state-level legislation may be just what is needed to compel Verizon, which has largely denied any service quality issues in South Jersey, to address the complaints.

“It’s one thing if you have mayors and council members from these municipalities griping. I think Verizon probably gets a good deal of that,” she said. “But when the state Legislature — that you’ve spent so much time, energy, and money [on] trying to make sure that they’re on your side politically — starts calling for some kind of action, that may be what would be necessary to get them to remedy the problem.”

Van Drew likely won’t be the only one bending lawmakers’ ears on the matter.  According to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Verizon N.J. spent nearly $720,000 on lobbying efforts in the state in 2014, the most recent year when figures are available.

Assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land, who also represent the 1st District, will introduce identical legislation in the Assembly.

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