Verizon officials have announced a plan to route much of its landline service on Fire Island through a wireless network, a plan critics say could force customers to seek another provider for high-speed Internet or to run credit cards and ATMs.
"Verizon has given us a dial tone basically," Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott said. "But as far as DSL, ATMs, point-of-sale systems, all the rest of that stuff, we're pretty much on our own."
Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said the alternative service, called Voice Link, should better withstand weather events such as superstorm Sandy.
Emergency services officials, local leaders and residents have complained that since Sandy flooded roughly three miles of Verizon's underground cable on the barrier island in late October, their landline service has been spotty or nonexistent. They fear the ramifications in emergencies when thousands of seasonal residents and tourists inundate the island in the summer.
Manuel Sampedro, president of Verizon's New York region, said two realities forced Verizon to reconsider its path to providing service: Verizon, the only provider of landline service on Fire Island, saw a 25 percent drop in its landline customers in the last two years; and of all Verizon calls to or from the island, 80 percent go through Verizon Wireless.
"The damage that happened there was much greater than the time frame needed to get the island back up and running for the summer season," said Sampedro. "On the east side, we're OK, some repairs here and there but typical things, nothing out of the ordinary. But on the west side of the island, wind damage and flooding was much more significant."
So they decided to implement Voice Link, through the Verizon Wireless network, to provide landline service to homes and businesses. Instead of repairing miles of copper wires, Sampedro said Verizon will install Voice Link, at no charge, to customers whose landlines were affected by the storm. The technology will have E911 capability, to identify the location of an emergency call, he said.
But Voice Link doesn't cover data, several critics have noted, so customers who used to use Verizon's High Speed Internet network at home or to run credit card and ATMs in their businesses will have to find a new wireless provider if Verizon does not restore that service.
If someone has working phone or DSL service now, "that service will remain," Bonomo said. Fire Island residents and businesses can also choose a different wireless provider, he said.
Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox said the new plan alleviates some of his concerns. "Our biggest worry . . . is the emergency services that really were reliant upon these landlines for 911 recordings, and that they addressed," Cox said.