Lengthy Landline, Internet Outage Leaves Residents in the Lurch

Some residents on W. 15th St. (btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) have not have landline or Internet service since June. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Many Chelsea residents have been left in the precarious position of no landline or Internet service for over two months now — and their provider, Verizon, does not have an estimate when service will be restored.

“It’s irresponsible and dangerous,” said Deley Gazinelli, who lives on W. 15th St., between Eighth and Ninth Aves. “My concern is there are a lot of elderly people in the building.”

Gazinelli said seniors and those with disabilities are unable to call the pharmacy for their prescriptions and for doctor appointments, and wonders what might happen if a medical emergency arises.

In June, a manhole fire at W. 15th St. and Ninth Ave. “caused significant damage to the equipment,” Laura Merritt, a Verizon spokesperson, said in an email. Merritt said the fire occurred on June 18, the state’s Public Service Commission said it happened on June 7, and longtime residents Albert Nicolas and Thelma Mann, who live on W. 15th St., between Eighth and Ninth Aves., said by phone it was June 8.

Nicolas said that when they called Verizon on June 8, they were told service would resume in two weeks. That two weeks kept getting postponed, with a new “target date” of Sept. 9 to get their landline and WiFi service restored, Mann said.

“I never could imagine that you can still be out of service in 2018 for two days, two weeks, let alone two months,” Nicolas said, noting that it is now approaching three months.

Mann said, “If we mattered to them, we would have service. The feeling is that we don’t count.”

She has been calling Verizon about restoring the service as well as billing issues — they are still being billed — with customer service from Verizon saying that they will be credited later. Meanwhile, Mann explained, they are getting past due notices.

Gazinelli said that he has been having problems with his service since May 13. He contacted the offices of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and State Senator Brad Hoylman, lodged a complaint with the state’s Public Service Commission, and has written and called Verizon.

“Verizon made six appointments to come to the building,” he said in a phone interview. “They never showed up.”

The appointments keep getting pushed back, with the next one scheduled for Aug. 31, he noted, adding, “I don’t believe they will show up.”

In the meantime, for Internet service, Gazinelli has to go to the library or Starbucks, which is “packed… and the connection isn’t very good.”

Gazinelli’s landlord, Felix Bernardo, who lives on W. 14th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves., said the fire “knocked our phones out and some neighbors’ too. And it’s not back.”

He added, “What I want is to get my phone fixed.”

Merritt, the Verizon spokesperson, said she does not have an estimate when service will be restored.

“The fire itself caused significant damage to the equipment and the need to repair and replace all of the equipment (cables, etc.), plus the reconstruction that needs to be done, requires extensive work and takes time,” she said.

She added, “Our customers are our priority. We are working hard to restore service as quickly as possible, and to offer temporary solutions based on the customers’ individual situations.”

Hoylman, who has personally reached out to the company, said, “Verizon doesn’t have the ability to say how widespread the outage is.” Hoylman also noted that Verizon is dependent on customers contacting them and reporting issues.

James Denn, spokesperson for the Public Service Commission — the state agency that oversees the telecommunications industry — said in an email that as a result of the fire, “There are three cable failures affecting 83 Verizon customers. The estimated restoration date is August 31.”

That outage around W. 15th St. is not the only one in the neighborhood. Longtime resident Pamela Wolff said her landline service went out on May 15. Many neighbors — on W. 21st and W. 22nd Sts., between. Seventh and Eighth Aves. — told her they had no landline service.

“It’s been a struggle for those who lost that service,” she noted in a phone interview.

Wolff said she spent several hours on the phone with Verizon, “hours and hours and hours of waiting for someone to show up” for appointments and no one did, and also was continued to be billed for a service she was not receiving. She was also told she would be credited later. “It’s been a nightmare,” she said.

Wolff’s service was restored in early August, and she said she was satisfied with the technician who came out. For people who are not computer savvy and that are without a cellphone, the lack of landline service left them “completely isolated,” she said.

Hoylman said, “It’s a serious interruption to one’s life not having this service.”

Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, said outages had happened in the Village as well.

About the Village outages, Hoylman, Johnson and other elected officials sent a letter dated Aug. 7, 2017 to Verizon “regarding frequent and prolonged phone service outages in our district. While we are happy to assist our constituents, New Yorkers should not need to involve their elected officials in order for Verizon to work efficiently to restore phone services.”

“We’ve been having a tough time with Verizon on a number of issues,” Bottcher said by phone.

Johnson’s office has been working with Verizon to set up a community town hall, tentatively scheduled for Mon., Sept. 17, he said.

The letter tackled three issues: “copper wire telephone lines with frequent outages,” the “fulfillment of the city contract to transition from copper wire to fiber optics (Fios) by 2014” — which has yet to be completed — and “communication between Verizon and customers.”

Hoylman said residents — who schedule appointments but no one shows up — “called our office as a last resort,” and they get “stuck in a Kafkaesque vortex” to get repairs done.

“The customer service should be better, but the reality is we are dealing with 100-year-old cooper wire,” he said. “I share in our constituents’ frustration that this is no way to run a phone company.”

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