South Jersey towns ask state to investigate Verizon over phone, Internet problems

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 The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will investigate landline and broadband reliability problems with Verizon in 16 South Jersey towns. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will investigate landline and broadband reliability problems with Verizon in 16 South Jersey towns. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

A group of rural South Jersey towns tired of chronic issues with phone and Internet service is asking the state to investigate Verizon, the major telecommunications provider in New Jersey.

Sixteen municipalities across Cumberland, Atlantic, Salem, and Gloucester counties sent a petition to the state Board of Public Utilities last week requesting the investigation.

“All we’re asking is what everyone else receives,” said Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella.

“We pay the same on our bills. We … have the same needs as [the rest of the state]. We just want it to be fair,” he said.

The petition alleges that Verizon has allowed its aging copper-wire landline infrastructure to deteriorate in parts of South Jersey, causing crackly reception and outages for some customers.

Tim Van Meter, who lives on a farm in Hopewell Township in Cumberland County, knows those issues firsthand.

“God forbid you lose your cell phone or something for a day. What are you gonna do?” he said. “You need to get a hold of somebody? The phone’s not reliable. You can’t. You gotta get in the car and go borrow your neighbor’s phone.”

Verizon denies the allegation that it has not maintained its copper-wire infrastructure, countering that it is one of the largest private investors in New Jersey.

“Over the last five years, the company has invested more than $4 billion in its wireline network across the state, including targeted investments in the copper network serving our customers,” said Verizon spokesman John Bonomo.

The petition also claims that Verizon’s refusal to extend FiOS, its faster fiberoptic phone and Internet service, to more rural areas of South Jersey has put the region at a broadband speed disadvantage compared with other parts of the state.

Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel, said that the only way small towns such as Hopewell Township will see any improvements in their phone and Internet service will be through the BPU, which moved to deregulate Verizon earlier this year.

“It is really, really important that the BPU take notice, get involved, and make sure that everybody has access to good telephone and affordable telephone and broadband,” she said.

Once it receives the petition, the BPU staff will determine whether the petition goes to the board itself or the Office of Administrative Law for review.

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