Verizon DCā€™s Copper to Fiber Transition

Why was the Formal Case No. 1102 docket opened?

In another Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia (Commission) case, Formal Case No. 1090, several District consumers complained that Verizon Washington, DC Inc. (Verizon), the District's incumbent local exchange carrier, engaged in coercive or misleading marketing tactics to pressure customers to abandon voice service provided over copper facilities in favor of voice service provided over fiber facilities.

The Commission opened Formal Case No. 1102 in January 2013, “to investigate Verizon’s continued use of its copper infrastructure for the provision of telecommunications services in the District of Columbia and whether, and under what circumstances, Verizon plans to transition customers from the “telecommunications services provided over copper facilities to telecommunications services provided over fiber facilities.”

Who are the parties involved in the proceeding?

The parties consist of the Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC), Verizon, and the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO (CWA).

What does “copper-to-fiber transition” mean?

Verizon is changing the equipment it uses to deliver traditional, landline telephone service to homes and businesses in the District of Columbia. Specifically, Verizon is replacing copper wires running from the street to each home or business with fiber-optic cables. The copper-to-fiber transition includes Verizon’s comprehensive plan for moving customers from a copper-based network providing voice service to a fiber-based network providing voice, video, and broadband services. Verizon believes the transition from copper to fiber facilities will provide its customers with more reliable service that is capable of supporting new, high-tech functions and features.

What are the primary differences between copper and optical fiber technology?

Copper facilities are powered by Verizon and will usually remain operational in the event of a power outage, while fiber facilities rely upon an optical network terminal (ONT) located at the home or business, which must be connected to a power source or outlet at the home or business. If electrical power at the home or business is lost, a backup battery connected to the ONT will provide customers with backup power for a period of time. In the event of an electrical outage, batteries will operate telephones up to 24 hours depending on the battery.

In most cases, the equipment that you currently use to place and receive calls will continue to work on the fiber network. There is no change to emergency calls to 911, provided that you have power to your home or, in the event of a power outage, have not exhausted the batteries in the ONT backup device described above.

Verizon DC provides two types of voice service over its fiber facilities, as follows:

  1. Traditional, landline voice service that is the same as traditional service provided over copper facilities, except it may be inoperable during power outages.
  2. FiOS Digital Voice service, which is a Voice over Internet Protocol service that cannot be provided over copper facilities.

 

What are the primary issues addressed in Formal Case No. 1102 and how do they affect the average DC consumer?

The primary issues addressed in Formal Case No. 1102 included:

  • an examination of the differences between Verizon DC’s three types of voice service;
  • an investigation of the ability to reach emergency services from these three services;
  • a determination about whether FDV service is regulated by the Commission;
  • an investigation into disclosures made by Verizon DC to customers about the copper-to-fiber transition; and
  • an investigation into whether Verizon allowed customers to keep their copper facilities.
The decisional order for Formal Case No. 1102, Order No. 17952, was issued on September 1, 2015. The Commission ruled FDV services to be a VoIP service, which does not fall under the regulation of the Commission. Hence, the Commission cannot have purview over matters pertaining to this service or hear consumer complaints about this service. The Commission also directed Verizon DC to update its customer service materials to provide additional disclosures for customers regarding voice service provided over fiber facilities. Additionally, the Commission also reaffirmed that customers have the right to retain or to return to voice service provided over copper facilities.