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Fire Island residents call Verizon service comment period too short

The headquarters for Verizon Communications Inc. in Manhattan.

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

Residents on western Fire Island have until June 18 to submit comments to the state about Verizon's new wireless replacement for landlines, but critics say that doesn't give summer residents enough time to try out the product.

Many families who summer on Fire Island don't come back until the July Fourth weekend, said Tara McBride Heslin, a year-round resident of Lonelyville who has criticized Verizon's plan not to repair miles of underground copper wire on western Fire Island that was flooded during superstorm Sandy.

Instead, Verizon wants to give Fire Island residents a dial tone by installing Voice Link, a phone service that operates on the wireless network, in homes that lost their landline service during or after Sandy.

On May 16, the state Public Service Commission issued a temporary approval for Verizon to abandon the damaged copper wire infrastructure on western Fire Island and install the new product.

McBride Heslin said she's concerned about the spotty, unreliable service she gets with Voice Link -- and that if most Fire Island summer residents haven't returned by June 18, they won't be able to comment.

Public Service Commission spokesman James Denn said by email that June 18 is "the formal date for comments to be submitted, but the Commission will continue to accept comments until a determination is made."

Verizon representatives have said that Voice Link will fare better in weather events such as Sandy. But because Voice Link runs on the wireless network, Ocean Bay Park fire commissioner and year-round Fire Island resident Steve Placilla said he's concerned the network will be overburdened this summer when the island swells with tourists and seasonal residents.

The fact that Verizon agreed to repair landline service to municipal offices on the island -- fire and police departments, villages and the Woodhull School -- raises questions about the company's confidence in the product, McBride Heslin said.

"If it's so important for them to have it, why are we second-class citizens?" she said.

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