Verizon offers alternative to Voice Link on Fire Island

The headquarters for Verizon Communications Inc. in Manhattan. The headquarters for Verizon Communications Inc. in Manhattan. Photo Credit: AP, 2005

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Verizon officials unveiled a plan Tuesday to bring fiber-optic cable to western Fire Island, where public outcry has swelled over a decision to not replace the landlines destroyed last fall.

After superstorm Sandy knocked out miles of underground cables in western Fire Island, Verizon -- the barrier island's only landline carrier -- started replacing them with Voice Link, a home phone service that operates off the wireless network.

But in comments to the state Public Service Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and at public meetings, residents blasted Voice Link, which they said provided unreliable service in an emergency, did not come with Internet capability and was an inadequate substitute for landlines.

The carrier heard customers' concerns and decided to offer another alternative with data capability, said Tom Maguire, Verizon senior vice president for national operations support.

"In today's competitive marketplace, it's all about making sure you can take care of customers. . . . Interestingly, on Fire Island, there is no place else, so we listened to our customers. . . . So we think that fiber is the best course," Maguire said. "It was pretty apparent that we wanted to do something beyond Voice Link and the wireless network, so we think that fiber is the best course."

There are about 600 Voice Link customers on Fire Island. Verizon customers on the western part of the island will have three choices -- they can keep Voice Link for voice service only, or they can have voice-over-fiber service installed. Customers who want Internet can request the Double Play package of FiOS Internet and FiOS digital voice. FiOS TV will not be offered as part of the package, Maguire said. Television on the island is provided through satellite dish services.

The office of Sen. Charles Schumer, who criticized Verizon's plan to abandon copper wire on the island, announced the plan Tuesday in a news release. Maguire said Verizon and Schumer worked together on the compromise.

"By installing fiber-optic cables on the island, Verizon will not only make the system as good as it was before, it will be making it better," Schumer said in a statement.

"Fire Island residents will now have greater access to high speed Internet -- a necessity in the modern age -- and reliable voice service. Verizon deserves credit for listening to our concerns and changing course."

But some residents say the fiber-optic cable option won't solve the issues they had with Voice Link, since it will only have enough battery life to make calls for up to eight hours during a power outage.

"We were without power for three weeks, so that wouldn't help me," said Tara McBride Heslin, a year-round Lonelyville resident. Heslin added, "But for fire and emergency services, we're still without an auxiliary backup in case of a power outage."

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