Verizon Tries to Skirt Hamilton Township Permit Fees to Save a Quick Buck on their Bottom Line
(Hamilton) – Township officials want to set the record straight for local ratepayers who are receiving corporate “double-talk” from Verizon regarding FIOS installation.
Recently, the township has been contacted by residents who have been told by Verizon representatives that there are “some issues with the Hamilton Township approving the wiring...” or that “Hamilton Township put a block on moving any existing service or getting new service” when it comes to FIOS wiring. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Verizon is making a corporate decision not to obtain permits in certain instances, which is increasingly illustrating an attempt on their part to avoid paying permit costs. And instead of admitting their decision to local residents, they are seeking to “pass the buck” when it comes to telling the public the truth.
In some instances, Verizon has attempted to avoid paying permit fees for FIOS installations in multi-unit dwellings (apartment complexes), which require permits. Permit requirements for this work are not unique to Hamilton Township, as the same procedures are in place in towns all across the state. When installations take place in any home or rental unit, permits are required to cover the costs of necessary Township inspections that must take place to ensure the safety and well-being of the public.
In particular, Hamilton Township offers a specific permit fee for multi-dwelling units, so that when an entity seeks installations, they can make up to 20 installations within the same building. In cases with multi-dwelling units (apartment complexes), these installations drill through fire-safety walls, which present public safety concerns.
These public safety concerns are not hypothetical. Township officials learned of an example of safety concerns at the end of 2009, when one resident shared an incident in which a FIOS installation unit melted in the corner of the transformer, leaving a burn spot on the wood holding the transformer and creating a pungent odor. The resident feared that if she was not home at the time, that a fire would have resulted.
In a recent meeting with State officials present, Verizon had been explicitly told by Hamilton Township that they can obtain permits for FOIS wiring, just as any other utility, such as Cablevision, or business can and does; however, that they must pay the required permit fees. However, Verizon has in documented instances, blamed Hamilton Township for permits that they have decided not to obtain.
“Verizon seems to want one rule for them, and one rule for everyone else,” says Hamilton Township Director of Technology, Michael Angarone, who explained that even utilities like Cablevision pay these same permit fees. “Instead of simply admitting to customers that they have the ability to obtain permits and are choosing not to do so, Verizon is seeking to save a few dollars and then blame the Township for their decisions. Sometimes people call it ‘political spin’, but in Verizon’s case, I call it ‘profit spin’.”
“I am very disappointed with the action that Verizon has taken thus far,” says Hamilton Township Mayor John Bencivengo. “As Mayor of the over 92,000 residents of Hamilton Township, I cannot sit idly by when Verizon, a for-profit corporation, wants to skirt rules that exist to protect public safety, so that they can save money and saddle the costs or public safety issues onto the backs of our taxpayers.”
Furthermore, in one recent example, Verizon has told a soon-to-be resident that they could not install FIOS in the single-family home that he is set to close on because “Hamilton Township put a block on moving any existing service or getting new service.” As a result, the individual contacted the Township.
“Although there should be no confusion over the need to obtain permits, the fact that Verizon would give a soon-to-be resident an excuse that they cannot install FIOS in a single-family home because of ‘the Township’ speaks volumes about the extent they are willing to go to mislead the public,” says Hamilton Township Business Administrator John Ricci.
Verizon also has a poor track record when it comes to FIOS. In December of 2009, Verizon entered into a settlement with the Office of the Attorney General and the State Division of Consumer Affairs over a lawsuit that stemmed from Verizon’s “marketing, sales, billing and customer service practices for its FIOS television, telephone and internet services.” Early last year, the State of New Jersey filed suit against Verizon for violating the Consumer Fraud Act and advertising regulations through its actions to promote and sell its FIOS service. As a result of the settlement, Verizon agreed to pay nearly $1,000,000 in penalties, reimbursement fees, investigative costs, provide 1,160 consumers that had submitted complaints against Verizon with prepaid cards and allow them to, if they desired, to terminate their service without incurring an early termination fee. Additionally, Verizon agreed to retain a Consumer Affairs Liaison for a period of 1 year.
Verizon has also complained to the Township that its permit costs were higher than other towns across the state. However, just in Mercer County, West Windsor Township charges higher permit costs than Hamilton Township. Yet, Verizon is the same company that wants to charge the Township $500 for an application fee to place a security camera on one Verizon-owned telephone pole.
While Hamilton Township desires to inform the public on the facts of this issue, officials were disturbed to recently learn that Verizon is attempting to get state regulations changed in order to avoid future permit requirements.
“Given the public safety issues that we have learned of, I would be very hesitant to allow a utility to avoid the need for permits and subsequent inspections so that safety can be jeopardized for profit,” explains Mayor Bencivengo. “Considering the amount of revenue that utilities generate, I am very skeptical that they cannot afford modest permit costs on installations that they will profit from for years to come.”
The Township is encouraging any resident who receives a questionable explanation from any utility to contact them through either the new HamStat Call Center (609-586-0311) or by submitting a service request through the official Hamilton website (www.HamiltonNJ.com) so that these instances of misrepresentation can be documented.