Class Sues Verizon for Plain Old Phone Service

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Verizon charges maintenance fees for its copper landlines, but lets them degrade to upsell fiber optic, customers claim in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Nicholas Johnnidis describes himself as a customer of Verizon’s “plain old telephone service (POTS), utilizing traditional copper lines.” He subscribes to Verizon’s for his home phone and dental business.
     “As a medical professional, Dr. Johnnidis must be available to his patients for emergency telephone calls. Dr. Johnnidis has relied on the copper line telephone service of defendant is available even when electrical service is interrupted,” the complaint states.
     Johnnidis says he began having trouble with his phone lines about two years ago.
     “Specifically, when it would rain, Dr. Johnnidis’ phone connections began to have loud static in the background,” the complaint states.
     When he called Verizon to complain, he says, the company repeatedly told him he should switch to FiOS optical fiber, because Verizon’s copper lines are degrading, and it is phasing them out.
     Johnnidis says he prefers the “plain old telephone service” because it allows him to use the phone when the power goes out.
     “With Verizon’s FiOS service, when electrical service to an area is interrupted, a backup battery is necessary to provide telephone service,” according to the complaint.
     “Such backup batteries provide service for around 4 to 6 hours, after which time, a FiOS subscriber cannot use the service to make telephone calls.”
     Johnnidis cites two articles published in June 2015, one by the Huffington Post and one by The Wall Street Journal, corroborating his claims.
     The first, “Verizon Is ‘Killing the Copper’ and Is Now Denying It,” quotes Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam telling investors at a private event, “I am going to be really shrinking the amount of copper we have out there, and then I can focus the investment on that to improve the performance of it.”
     The Wall Street Journal article suggests that Verizon is purposefully allowing its landlines to degrade to upsell customers on fiber optic lines.
     Verizon says it does maintain its copper landlines, but Johnnidis doesn’t believe it.
     “Verizon needs to have consumers and the public continue to believe it is maintaining its copper telephone lines because Verizon charges POTS customers fees for maintaining its copper lines: fees which have been diverted from POTS maintenance and used elsewhere by Verizon,” he says in the lawsuit.
     Verizon also charges landline customers a municipal franchise fee/right of way fee for jurisdictions where it uses public right of way to provide telecommunications services, Johnnidis says.
     Fees for plain old telephone service are about $27 per line, the complaint states. “These fees are fraudulent to all Verizon POTS customers, because Verizon says it is providing a service it does not in fact provide,” Johnnidis says.
     Johnnidis seeks class certification, restitution, disgorgement of unjust profits and damages for breach of implied contract, unjust enrichment and fraud.
     He is represented by Paul Whalen in Manhasset.
     Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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