Verizon, the nation’s second largest provider of landline phone service, is joining other telecommunications companies by no longer providing free backup batteries needed to keep its digital voice telephone service operating during a blackout.
The company said that as of early as December, new FiOS customers who want a backup battery will have to pay a one-time charge of $29.99, buy it elsewhere, or do without.
During a blackout, FiOS customers without a battery, household generator, or other type of backup power system will lose their landline voice service, including access to emergency 911. (Read our generator buying guide.)
Verizon’s decision comes about 14 months after Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to millions of homes and disrupted cell phone service in widespread areas.
“We will no longer provide the free 12-volt lead-acid battery. We’ll begin the policy later this month or early January,” said Verizon spokesman William Kula. New FiOS business customers will continue to receive a free battery, at least for the time being.
Verizon joins other carriers, including Time Warner, Cablevision, CenturyLink, and, most recently, Comcast and Cox Communications, in requiring new customers who want a backup battery to pay extra for it.
AT&T, the nation’s largest provider of landline service, said it has no plan to begin charging customers extra for backup power equipment that is included with installation of its digital phone service. Telecommunications company RCN said it too will continue to provide free backup batteries, as well as replacing worn-out batteries at no charge.
The issue involves the nation’s transition from copper-line phone service to digital systems that run on fiber optic cable. Copper lines carry not only the communications signal but also the electricity needed to operate a standard corded phone, even during a blackout, a capability fiber-optic cables lack. The more than 5.5 million existing FiOS residential and small-business customers had free backup batteries included with their installation. The battery provides up to eight hours of standby time, less if phones are used to make or receive calls.
Verizon’s decision to eliminate the free batteries drew criticism from Edgar Dworsky, the former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who runs ConsumerWorld.org. Dworsky is a member of the Verizon Consumer Advisory Board. “I’m upset because I frankly think every telephone provider should provide backup batteries so that digital phone service will work in an emergency,” he said.
The Federal Communications Commission requires telecommunications companies to provide emergency 911 access to digital landline phone users, but it does not mandate that they provide a way to keep phones operating during power outages, when 911 access may be needed the most.