AARP recently hosted a tele-press conference to alert the public about a recently revealed backroom deal struck between the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) staff and Verizon New Jersey to deregulate basic landline telephone service and which could harm consumers.
The deal, if approved by the BPU Commissioners, will significantly increase rates and eliminate service quality oversight according to the coalition under the moniker “Don’t Hang up on New Jersey.”
Participating on the call were Evelyn Liebman, AARP New Jersey Associate State Director, New Jersey League of Mu
nicipalities President and Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler, State Senator Bob Smith, Assemblyman Dan Benson, Farm Bureau Representative Tom Beaver, Dena Mottola Jaborska, New Jersey Citizen Action’s Director of Organizing and Strategic Program Development and Seth Hahn, Communications Workers of America Representative.
The recently revealed proposal, which was reached without involvement or input from the State’s Division of Rate Counsel, (the office that represents consumers in utility matters), or notice to the public, is based on a 2011 request by Verizon NJ to deregulate basic telephone services, a proceeding which has been dormant since 2013. Previously Verizon sought, but failed to win, deregulation from the NJ Legislature.
The deal could go before the BPU Commissioners for approval as early as next week.
“On behalf of our 1.3 million NJ members, AARP is fighting to preserve basic phone service for the hundreds of thousands of seniors and other residents who rely on landline service as a lifeline to family, medical and other life necessities. This is a bad deal for our members and all of New Jersey. We call on the BPU Commissioners to reject this proposal, provide opportunities for the public to be heard,” said Liebman.
Immediately following the press event, AARP New Jersey held a statewide House Call, reaching out to ~25,000 Verizon customers statewide. Over the course of the call, numerous Verizon customers painted a vivid picture by way of personal stories and emotional plights of just why these actions are so concerning. Many of these callers described how they used landlines to support pacemakers, medical alert and home security systems, and how they need to reliably connect with 911 emergency services. Serious concerns were also expressed concerning affordability and reliability during severe weather events.
New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand was a guest on the House Call event, and she spoke out against this proposal and also, called out the Board of Public Utilities for failing to look out for New Jersey’s Verizon customers on this issue.
“The BPU is just saying to Verizon, ‘Go ahead and do whatever you want’” said Brand. “They’re not going to look into service quality; they’re not going to invest in the system. They’re going to walk away from the copper landline system that ratepayers paid for.”
The full audio from that House Call event can be found at the link below.