More than 1,000 comments have been filed with state regulators about a proposed settlement critics say would permit Verizon New Jersey Inc. to renege on a promise to deploy broadband Internet throughout the state. The telecommunications provider, in turn, argued that New Jersey is now one of the "most-wired" states in the nation because of its efforts.
Verizon was among those filing comments with the state Board of Public Utilities by a 5 p.m. deadline Monday regarding modification of a 1993 agreement, known as Opportunity New Jersey, between the state and the telecommunications provider. Verizon, based in Newark, said it has more than fulfilled its obligation to the state, and that the settlement should be adopted.
By Monday's cutoff, the BPU also had received a host of comments in opposition to the Verizon-BPU settlement, by groups such as the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel; the New Jersey State League of Municipalities; the New Jersey branch of the Communications Workers of America, representing about 3,000 Verizon New Jersey employees; Jersey Access Group, a consortium of cable-access TV stations; the consumer watchdog group Teletruth; and a number of South Jersey towns — including Hopewell, Alloway and Pilesgrove townships — many in rural areas.
Verizon's supporters, those who filed comments urging the settlement's approval, included the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce; the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey; the Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce; the New Jersey Technology Council; senior citizen activist group the 60 Plus Association; the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce; and the Cooper's Ferry Partnership of Camden.
The battle is over whether Verizon has fulfilled its commitment 21 years ago to roll out broadband up to 45 megabytes per second throughout the state, an arrangement that allowed the company to have what some consider less stringent regulatory oversight. That agreement resulted in Verizon receiving $15 billion in rate increases and tax perks by 2013, costs shouldered by consumers, said Teletruth Chairman Bruce Kushnick.
Despite those benefits, Verizon critics charge that the company now is seeking to substitute slower broadband service, such as 4G wireless and digital subscriber line service, in some parts of the state rather than the broadband level promised or rolling out FiOS, the company's high-speed TV, phone and Internet service.
Teletruth in its filing called for an investigation of Verizon's financial reporting and its alleged failure to upgrade the entire state to broadband. Verizon denied Kushnick's charges.
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