Verizon, CWA reach copper network settlement in Pennsylvania

Verizon and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have reached an agreement under which the telco will make a number of infrastructure upgrades to its copper infrastructure in Pennsylvania, following complaints that the telco was allegedly not performing necessary upkeep on the state's network.

Under the new agreement, Verizon will repair and replace bad copper cable, defective equipment and faulty backup batteries, as well as take down 15,000 double telephone poles. Specifically, Verizon will conduct five main projects to improve the state’s copper network infrastructure:

  1. Cable Replacements: Verizon will conduct an engineering review of a number faulty cable replacement requests made in 2015 and 2016 that were identified in urban, suburban and rural areas of the state. After reviewing these requests, Verizon will determine which cables should be completed based on objective criteria, share this information with CWA, and complete all cable replacement projects within 18 months.
  2. Copper plant remediation: Verizon will allocate additional resources to maintain or rehabilitate copper network infrastructure in 30 mainly rural communities. Those areas have been served by wire centers that CWA said were the some of the worst on record in terms of service performance and customer trouble reports (e.g. out-of-service or noise on the line). The first 15 areas will be completed within 18 months, the next 15 areas within 36 months.
  3. Pole replacement: More than 15,000 "double poles" are placed across Pennsylvania. Verizon installs double poles when it has not moved its equipment from an old pole that was replaced with a new one by another utility, such as the local electric company. In a number of cases, these double poles are falling, leaning, rotting or are partially cut off, posing threats to the local community. Verizon will remove 15,000 double poles over the next 36 months at a rate of 5,000 per year.
  4. Replacing remote terminal (RT) batteries: Verizon will inspect and replace the batteries at its RT sites, giving priority to those facilities serving 911 public service access points (PSAPs) and police departments. Nonworking batteries can cause telephone services to not work during a power outage.
  5. Repair and call answer time. Verizon will report repair and call answer time on a quarterly basis to CWA.

The settlement is based on a CWA complaint that was put before the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC) against Verizon over claims that the telco was not maintaining its copper infrastructure. That maintenance failure would be in violation of the telco's statutory obligation to provide safe and adequate service to customers.

"Today's settlement shows that Verizon cannot neglect its copper infrastructure and provide unsafe, inadequate service to its customers in order to maximize profits,” said Jim Gardler, president of CWA Local 13000, in a release. “CWA's testimony and evidence of Verizon's neglect spoke volumes. This settlement will help improve service quality and safety for Pennsylvanians.”

In October 2015, CWA filed its complaint with the Pennsylvania PUC, providing what it said was documentation of Verizon’s copper network maintenance issues. At that time, Verizon dismissed the CWA’s claims, saying that union’s claims are incorrect.

RELATED: Verizon says it's not neglecting its legacy network, despite CWA claims

A Verizon spokesman told FierceTelecom in a previous interview that the telco continued to make what it said was “substantial investments in the wireline network each year—more than $3.4 billion last year alone.”

Verizon did not immediately respond to FierceTelecom’s latest request for comment on this agreement with the PUC and CWA.

Later in April 2016, the PUC opened a proceeding to investigate CWA's complaint. CWA submitted testimony documenting Verizon's copper facility maintenance practices and service problems that the union claimed also endangered public and worker safety.

Verizon is not the only telco that’s come under fire recently over copper maintenance and support practices—Fellow telco CenturyLink has also been criticized for its copper retirement process. The telco said that every year it invests a large part of its capital dollars to ensure that its existing copper network continues to function for its wholesale and consumer customers.