Verizon plans to drop VT

Verizon Communication’s proposed $3 billion sale of 1.6 million local access land lines in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, is generating uproar among both employees and community members. Over 60 people gathered at Burlington High School Tuesday night, for the “Stop-the-Sale” forum led by Congressman Bernie Sanders, to discuss the impact of Verizon leaving Vermont. The sale was described as both unethical and illegal by Kevin Peres, Communications Workers of America telecommunications policy expert, who called Verizon’s tactics, “rural [telecom] redlining.” The sale would only affect Verizon’s land phones and internet services, not cellular service. Peres said there are three main risks Vermont faces if Verizon leaves the state: decreased economic development, decreased consumer satisfaction and accessibility, and workers losing jobs and benefits. Whether Verizon is allowed to sell its access lines in Vermont rests upon the decision made by Vermont Department of Public Service, said DPS Director of Telecommunications Division Chris Campbell. According to state law, the sale or transfer of any power, water or phone services are regulated by the DPS, said Mike O’ Day, district vice president for CWA Local 1400 and a Verizon employee. Peres warned that Verizon leaving would put “the economic future at risk, for the nation and the state…broadband is the future, it is now.” Following years of sales in Vermont, “Verizon has taken its profits from here and invested them elsewhere,” said Mike Spillane, business manager of IBEW Union Local 2326. Spillane said that Verizon’s sale “could leave us [Vermont] as road kill on the information superhighway.” Though Verizon states on its Web site, “No company has committed more resources to deploy broadband networks and services than Verizon,” many people at the meeting disagreed. The lack of availability of high speed internet access in rural Vermont was also discussed. Lynda Fairbanks traveled to the forum from Castleton, Vermont to express her disappointment with Verizon. She explained to the group how after moving 1.5 miles down the road she lost high-speed internet. Kristi Pelletier, a Verizon employee who lives in Highgate, asked, “What kind of jobs will be available to kids with no highspeed internet access?” “If we want to have good jobs so young people stay here we need broadband internet,” Vermont Senator Matt Dunne said. “We cannot afford to go backwards.” Katherine Noppler, a UVM sophomore, SLAP member and resident of Poultney, Vermont, said that she doesn’t see “a guarantee that any change will be a positive one.” On the contrary she believes, “any change will be for the worse.” “It would be great if we could all just be farmers, but its not possible…I want there to still be jobs here when I graduate,” she said. While most people at the forum expressed their wishes for Verizon to stay invested in Vermont while increasing the prevalence of broadband internet across the state, Campbell was concerned as to whether this option is feasible. In some ways the situation seems to be lose-lose, Noppler said. If Verizon stays, it could mean a continued lack of broadband availability in Vermont. The overall sentiment of the forum, though, was expressed by O’Day, who said, “It’s a message to Verizon that we want you to stay.”