When Jim and Caryn Lilly moved five years ago to a rural, southern corner of Fauquier County, they knew the cellphone service was lousy and they’d have to rely on satellite service for TV and the internet. They were counting on their phone line from Verizon.
The couple say they have endured outage after outage, sometimes dragging on for weeks. When Jim Lilly needed to contact the police recently, he had to drive four miles down Va. 610 to a 7-11 to place the call. Fortunately, the family of four hasn’t needed to summon an ambulance.
The problem, in a word, is copper.
The old copper landline to the Lillys’ home on Brent Town Road south of Midland kept breaking, once or twice a year at first, then every three or four months.
Lilly says he’d endure long, frustrating waits on Verizon’s 800 customer service line and when he’d get through, “it would take days and weeks to get it fixed. We’d have appointments where they wouldn’t show.” Eventually, a local technician and manager took pity on them and gave them their cell phone numbers for faster response.
But each time the repair would only last a short while. Lilly said the manager told him the copper lines in our area “are very old and Verizon isn’t updating or replacing them. They’re just patching them.” The manager said there was a problem as well with old gear used to relay the signals.
“We are literally back to the 1800s when the Verizon lines break down here,” he said.
Verizon is phasing out copper in favor of faster, more reliable fiber lines wherever it can.
The local manager declined to answer questions. But in an Aug. 26 public notice, the director of its Network Transformation division said the 85 remaining wire centers in Virginia, including one in Nokesville, will be weaned from copper on or after Sept. 3, 2020. It issued notices that same day for Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia.
“Verizon has deployed or plans to deploy its fiber-to-the-premises network in these areas and intends to provide service over a fiber network infrastructure,” the notice said.
After the retirement of the copper facilities, Verizon will cease maintaining them. “To help ensure an orderly transition, Verizon may require customers and interconnecting entities to migrate services … well before the copper replacement date,” it said.
Jeannine Brew Braggs, a spokeswoman at Verizon headquarters for Verizon Consumer Group, declined to answer questions.
What exactly this means for those in the Lillys’ boat isn’t clear.
The Federal Communications Commission rules prevent telephone companies from abruptly discontinuing or reducing service, but lets them do so after notice “unless customers are unable to receive similar services or a reasonable substitute from another provider.”