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Friday, October 28, 2016

The telephone will soon become much more costly and intermittently available in the Garden State, thanks to a backroom deal between New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s administration and Verizon.

This is expected to become official Tuesday, but there is still time to fight it, as I’ll explain below.

Regardless of where you live in America, the New Jersey deal illustrates how the old promise of universal access to telephone service is quietly being replaced with new rules that give all the power to telecommunications giants. From Alabama to Texas, from California to Kentucky, the telephone giants have been pouring millions of dollars into new laws and regulations that strip customers of agency and rights.

Under the New Jersey deal, Verizon will only be required to provide basic landline home and business service, and to continue repairing lines, for the next three to possibly five years. After that Verizon can take its sweet time or altogether refuse to make repairs.

Verizon will also be able to impose unlimited charges for any one-time service, such as an installation or upgrade. This way it would be able to turn away any customer it deems unprofitable simply by demanding huge fees.

Under the new deal, rates would also increase an outrageous 36 percent by 2019. If rates were allowed to increase at last year’s inflation rate, the total increase by 2019 would be less than one-tenth of that. Significantly, this huge rate hike is not listed as a purpose of the four-year-old proceeding under which the backroom deal was made.

Typically, a public inquiry known as a “rate case,” which includes expert testimony and requires economic analysis, would need to be conducted in order to determine whether any price increases are justified. No such proceeding will have occurred here: The state is effectively just handing the companies more money.

This violates the basic economic and legal principle of utility regulation. Owners are entitled to just and reasonable profits and customers to just and reasonable prices.

Assemblyman Dan Benson, a Democrat, said if the deal goes through, the economic damage will be felt widely, especially in lightly populated areas. Small towns without a reliable telecommunications infrastructure are “going to be left behind, as they try to attract jobs and businesses.”

You might think Republicans, as the party that claims to support business, would be looking out for this sort of thing. But so far in New Jersey it is Big Business, with all of its campaign money and perks, like the corporate jets that ferry Christie around the country, that has won the hearts of the Republican governor and Republican state legislators.

This deal to diminish and ultimately take away consumer rights while jacking up prices was done largely without public hearings or much notice to the public at all. (There were two short hearings — three years ago.)

The list of people who received copies of the deal, which was signed May 6, does not include any consumer groups or news organizations. Only state officials, Verizon, and CenturyLink, which serves a small part of the state, were sent copies — a solid indicator that the fix is in.

There was no involvement by the New Jersey state office that looks out for the interests of telephone customers. Its director, Stefanie Brand, filed a petition Friday protesting the deal, which she said is being done in violation of state law.

Based on the original case, Brand said, “the public would have no way of knowing” the central changes being proposed.

Brand told me that the original case made no mention of “costs and rate increases” or the other changes that go far beyond the issues the public had been told about.

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  • Insinnergy

    How do they get away with this?
    Has no-one worked out what Christie is? Or do people just not care?

  • AmericanPlutocracy

    This really isn’t that difficult for people to understand – Business knows no limits on greed, decency, or social responsibility. None. Without Americans realizing Democracy is far far more important than corporate interests we’ll be certain to die a painful death as a country. Keep arguing right vs left nonsense and people like Chris Christy, FauxNews, and others will be all too happy to capitalize on our discord under the guise of ‘conviction’ and ‘belief’. It’s tragic what we are letting happen.

  • Alvin Harrison


    Things are changing at a accelerating pace now as technology makes huge strides forward. In a few years, you can say goodbye to the traditional landline telephone. As the article above details, New Jersey has already given the OK for telecommunication companies to do just about anything they want. What is not talked about is that landlines are inefficient, they will soon be phased out. Every state will follow suit. Say goodbye to another industry that employed millions of Americans. The old telephone company model.

    I am not complaining…that is just the way it is. Carriage makers gave way to automobile manufacturers. Newspapers are on their last legs due to the internet. The point is, this life and death cycle of industries will accelerate and people everywhere will have to learn to adapt or fail.

    As an example: For over 50 years, being a Taxi driver could support a family, put kids through college…you know be a secure job. Enter UBER and the other App driven ride services. Taxis and the associated employees of that industry are in free fall, by their own admission. That industry will whither and die eventually. The UBER type industry employees should not, however, feel very smug or secure. Their industry’s life cycle will be much, much shorter. Self driving cars are already in real world testing. Once approved, UBER will no longer need drivers. Apps will simply contact the cars themselves, and they will pick you up sans human guidance.

    The whole point of this comment is that, the days of getting a job you can count on to be a career is most likely gone forever, with very few exceptions. Given the rapidly changing technology and life and death cycle of industries, I cannot see anything lasting 30 years…or 20 years for that matter. Those people that can adapt will do ok….those who can’t….well… The question becomes, how do you prepare for this rapidly transitioning employment landscape? What education is needed…most likely a very extensive one or very little, since there will be only two types of jobs….those that service the machines and systems…and…well no I guess the machines will do all the other jobs.

    It will happen slowly…and I guess “slowly” is relative, but our use of the economic system of Capitalism will force us down a preordained path…until a breaking point is reached. Automation will eventually reduce the need for human labor to the point that, unless you have the education to maintain or design a machine…you are not needed. Capitalism will ensure that machines will replace meat men as soon as the tech is there to make it possible….in every “job”…..because capitalism demands efficiency. Frankly, we meat men are just not that efficient when compared to machines.

    What will happen is a complete breakdown of the society, when people can no longer survive in the wage/slave society model….or a new model will have to be devised. The Corp/1% will have a choice to make. Change the societal model so everyone benefits from the technology regardless of education etc…or reduce and eliminate the unneeded meat men. I would not count on the generosity of the Corp/1%…they have priors.

    • Winky Cat

      “There will be no more CAREERS” Bingo!!!

      Here in PA, Verizon has been offering “buyouts” to long time employees, mostly in the landline related divisions. Have family & friends that have taken them. Doubt they were replaced.

      Had Verizon for landline for years, had few problems, until they started pushing FIOS. Suddenly, my service went to hell. Crackling over the line, dead line, calls not received, etc. Attempts to repair only lasted a short time. Ironically, FIOS wasn’t even available in my area when the troubles started.

      Finally dropped them, joined the “Cell and Google Voice” generation, and haven’t looked back.

      Your post touched so many valid points…Thanks!

      • Alvin Harrison

        Thanks for your support…I write a blog almost daily you might find interesting as well as write, and record music that is “socially relevant”:

  • jakenhyde

    Is this going to be like Bridgegate…where The Fat Man will be totally unaware of what happened? Looks like Christie is just another one of those republicans who is in bed with big money and doesn’t give a hoot about his constituency.

  • radsenior

    Can you hear me now?? Is no one listening?? Does anyone care?? It is at the local and state level where the greatest damages can occur if people do not pay attention! Is no one listening?? Does anyone care?? Can you hear me now??

  • Rippie

    Sounds likely that a Federal Injunction will be sought and granted so the state of “New Frickin’ Juzzy” can try this process over again… properly, with full and open disclosure, including of the OBVIOUS payola that HAS to be going on here.