New Jersey regulators: Verizon can use DSL, wireless to deliver broadband to rural areas

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in a unanimous vote said it is okay for Verizon (NYSE: VZ) to serve non-fibered areas of the state with DSL or mobile wireless. The deal clarifies Verizon's obligations under a 20-year-old pledge to provide broadband service throughout New Jersey and leaves some rural communities on the wrong side of the digital divide.

In rural Southern New Jersey, in particular, landline telephone is already an issue: broadband is, for many, out of the question. Hopewell Township Committeeman Greg Facemeyer, in a South Jersey Times story, said Verizon was leaving his community and others in surrounding areas of Cumberland County in the lurch. The article cited several county officials who said more than 7 percent of Cumberland County households still lack access to sufficient broadband Internet--more than 10 times the state average.

"Why should we get left behind?" Facemeyer asked, noting that he believed the BPU acted without input from his community.

His position was backed by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who said he will continue his efforts to make sure that Hopewell gets better service.

In unanimously (4-0) clearing the way for Verizon, the BPU agreed with the telco that fiber was never part of an original commitment made in 1993 and that the service provider is only obligated to to deliver broadband speeds as fast as DSL, either by wired or wireless means.

BPU commissioner Jeanne Fox, in a NJ Spotlight story, called the substitution of wireless for wireline broadband in some areas a "decent stipulation." But even she wasn't delighted.

"I'm not thrilled with wireless service. I don't think it's as reliable but it may be the future," she said.

It's not enough, said New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand.

"We have heard from a number of people, mostly customers in rural areas, that they do not have access to broadband," Brand told the Asbury Park Press. "In this day and age, Internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity of life."

The BPU, to an extent, agreed with that and stipulated as part of the settlement that Verizon would make high-speed service available by copper, fiber or wireless to a minimum of 35 single line business or residential customers who ask for it and are located in a census tract that has no access to high-speed services from cable companies or 4G wireless. Those customers must agree to a one-year contract and pay a $100 deposit, according to the Asbury Park Press story.

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