2007-11-23 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER New technologies, such as high-speed Internet, fiber optic television, and digital telephone service now offer consumers remarkably fast, reliable access to voice and television networks and the Internet. Consumers should be aware, however, that switching communications service providers, or upgrading their service with their current provider, can, in some instances, lead to problems in the future.

The latest telecommunications technology uses advanced fiber optic networks to deliver television, telephone and high-speed Internet services to customers. In New York State, Verizon has begun offering fiber optic communications service under the moniker FiOS to consumers. According to published reports and company spokespersons, upon installation of FiOS service in neighborhoods with overhead wiring, a portion of the traditional copper wiring connecting the customer's house to the wiring above the street is removed. Since many telephone and Internet service providers rely on copper wires to provide their service to consumers, the removal of this wiring may limit a consumer's ability to switch to another provider.

According to published statements issued by Verizon spokespersons, the company offers homeowners the option of leaving their connection to the existing copper network in place. Furthermore, in the event that a new resident desires copper-based telecommunications service, or an existing FiOS customer would like their copper restored, the company will restore the wiring without charge. Lastly, the company states that FiOS contracts contain a disclosure stating that the installation procedure may affect a customer's ability to receive other services. As with any agreement, it is important to read the terms and conditions carefully before signing on the dotted line.

It is also important to be fully aware of any potential limitations associated with a new product or service. Some telecommunications technologies, for example, lack safety features consumers often take for granted. Some voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, telephone services lack Enhanced 911 (E911) functionality. E911 systems automatically transmit a caller's number and location information to emergency service personnel. Be sure to ask VoIP providers whether you will be able to take advantage of the advanced functions of E911. Consumers should also be aware that, in the event of a power outage, VoIP phones and phones connected to a fiber optic network without a backup power supply may not work. Be sure to ask the service provider if a backup power device is sold or provided with the service.

New technologies are helping to usher in a new era of speed and reliability in telecommunications. As with any contract or agreement for services, be sure to do your homework before signing the agreement, and don't be afraid to ask questions. For more information on telephone services, you may want to visit the New York State Public Service Commission's Consumer Website at: http://www.askpsc.com/.

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