Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On a New Jersey Islet, Twilight of the Landline

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine
Date: Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 10:31 AM
Subject: re: On a New Jersey Islet, Twilight of the Landline
To: "letters@nytimes.com"

To the Editor:
    In 2013, U.S. law still treats communications by landline differently from those by cellphone, although users do not.  My communications by landline enjoy a presumption of privacy; to tap the contents legally requires a court warrant or a National Security Letter. My communications by cellphone enjoy no such legal protection. As soon as the message is transmitted by radio from my cellphone to a relay tower I have "shared" it with a third party. From that point onwards, I enjoy no presumption of privacy and no court warrant is needed to tap the contents of my conversation.
   Of course, this law needs to be fixed to give teeth to Americans' Fourth Amendment guarantees of freedom from unreasonable search. But until the law is fixed, for Verizon to replace landline service with a wireless link is to deprive residents of a basic civil right, as guaranteed in our bill or rights.
Barry Haskell Levine
MANTOLOKING, N.J. — Hurricane Sandy devastated this barrier island community of multimillion-dollar homes, but in Peter Flihan’s view, Verizon Communications has delivered a second blow: the telecommunications giant did not rebuild the landlines destroyed in the storm, and traditional telephone service here has now gone the way of the telegraph.

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“Verizon decides then and there to step on us,” said Mr. Flihan, 75, a retired toy designer and marketer.
Verizon said it was too expensive to replace Mantoloking’s traditional copper-line phone network — the kind that has connected America for more than a century — and instead installed Voice Link, a wireless service it insisted was better.
Verizon’s move on this sliver of land is a look into the not-too-distant future, a foreshadowing of nearly all telephone service across the United States. The traditional landline is not expected to last the decade in a country where nearly 40 percent of households use only wireless phones. Even now, less than 10 percent of households have only a landline phone, according to government data that counts cable-based phone service in that category.
The changing landscape has Verizon, AT&T and other phone companies itching to rid themselves of the cost of maintaining their vast copper-wire networks and instead offer wireless and fiber-optic lines like FiOS and U-verse, even though the new services often fail during a blackout.
“The vision I have is we are going into the copper plant areas and every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper,” Lowell C. McAdam, Verizon’s chairman and chief executive, said last year. Robert W. Quinn Jr., AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory issues, said the death of the old network was inevitable. “We’re scavenging for replacement parts to be able to fix the stuff when it breaks,” he said at an industry conference in Maryland last week. “That’s why it’s going to happen.”
The Federal Communications Commission has long agreed. In its National Broadband Plan, published in 2010, the F.C.C. said that requiring certain carriers to maintain plain old telephone service “is not sustainable” and could siphon investments away from new networks.
“The challenge for the country,” the F.C.C. said, is to ensure “a smooth transition for Americans who use traditional phone service and for the businesses that provide it.”
But as far as Mr. Flihan and others in New Jersey are concerned, that transition from a reliable service — one that has given them a sense of security all their lives — is not smooth at all. An array of state-sanctioned consumer advocacy groups, as well as AARP, have petitioned regulators to disallow the replacement of Mantoloking’s copper lines with Voice Link.
Not only will Voice Link not work if the power fails — a backup battery provides two hours of talking time, hardly reassuring to people battered by Sandy — but Verizon warns Voice Link users that calls to 911 under normal conditions might not go through because of network congestion. Medical devices that require periodic tests over phone lines, like many pacemakers, cannot transmit over Voice Link. Fax machines do not work over most wireless phone networks, including Voice Link. Neither do many home security systems, which depend on a copper phone line to connect to a response center.
“They told us this was the greatest thing in the world,” Mr. Flihan said. But he estimates that roughly 25 percent of the calls he makes through the Verizon Voice Link service do not go through the first time he dials, or sometimes the second or third. Occasionally, the call is interrupted by clicking sounds, and sometimes a third party’s voice can be heard on the line, Mr. Flihan said.
Verizon responded that it had offered to visit Mr. Flihan’s house to address the problems. Mr. Flihan said he had refused if Verizon would not bring back his landline. Overall, the company said that a vast majority of Voice Link customers in Mantoloking and elsewhere liked Voice Link, and if not, they could get phone service over cable television lines through Comcast or another provider.
The difference between wired and wireless, however, is a big one.

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