Verizon acts on complaints

The Baltimore Sun

Verizon Maryland Inc. responded yesterday to a flurry of consumer complaints about its service and an inquiry from state regulators, saying it plans to put more technicians on the job and it will provide better information about when repairmen will show up for appointments.

The company faced a deadline yesterday to provide the Maryland Public Service Commission with data related to service lapses and an outline of how it will fix problems such as missing calls for repairs.

Verizon executives said late yesterday that they met that deadline.

Officials at the PSC confirmed that four standard gray envelopes addressed to the commissioners arrived just before closing time at 5 p.m. A spokeswoman for state regulators said no one would be available to review the documents until today.

"We feel these efforts will go a long way toward addressing the commission's concerns about missed appointments," William R. Robert, president of Verizon Maryland Inc., said in a statement.

"We also are confident these steps will decrease the time it takes to restore service to customers after an interruption and reduce the number of customer complaints the commission receives," Robert said.

The PSC demanded a plan and documents at a hearing two weeks ago after receiving 300 complaints in the first seven months of the year, a 50 percent increase from last year. Since the hearing, the PSC has received another 150 complaints about Maryland's largest telephone provider, officials said.

Verizon executives released a list of eight planned service improvements yesterday. They included moving 50 technicians from building the fiber-optic network to repairing the traditional one; increasing worker overtime; rehiring two retired managers to focus on improvements; and retraining call center employees to assist customers who lose service and have medical conditions.

The company also said it would establish an automated system to update customers on the status of repair requests and explore offering customers text messages when technicians are dispatched.

Temporary wireless

Verizon said it would continue offering customers call-forwarding from nonworking phones and providing temporary wireless phones for those who need them.

Verizon has 3 million lines in Maryland. Executives have characterized the number of complaints about its service as low, but unacceptable nonetheless. The company acknowledged violating state regulations that require it to show up on time for 80 percent of its service calls.

The PSC couldn't say how long it would take to parse the data from Verizon. But some customers said they were glad someone is looking into it.

Rebecca Edmond of Arnold said trouble started when she returned from vacation in late July to find her phone line was buzzing. She said Verizon missed several appointments over a week in early August to fix the traditional copper lines, when finally her phone stopped working at all.

After days of missed work and a large cell phone bill, Edmond said Verizon installed fiber-optic lines and hooked her up to new phone service.

"I now realize that I am far from the only customer Verizon has treated badly," Edmond said.

Deborah Canty of Baltimore County had a similar story: Appointments not kept. Hours on hold waiting to schedule service or to talk with a supervisor. Bills for service she didn't receive.

Lost service

Canty said she has experienced problems with other telephone service providers in the past. And her first problems with Verizon surfaced during the past few weeks.

There is no data on rival phone companies that provide Internet-based or wireless phone services - including Verizon - because they are not subject to the PSC's regulations, some of which are 30 years old.

But Canty lost her old-fashioned land line. She had no dial tone and called the company Aug. 16 to report trouble. No one arrived for a scheduled Aug. 18 home visit after a customer service representative insisted there was no problem with her phone.

After more phone calls, and an appointment with another department, she received a $60 credit.

But yesterday, she said, "I am still without service. I was left on hold waiting to speak with a supervisor and no one has attempted to contact me. I will be calling back today to try to speak with a supervisor."

Both Canty and Edmond complained to the PSC. Verizon officials said they were reviewing the cases.

Customer complaints sparked the PSC inquiry and a panel spokeswoman couldn't say what would happen next. The PSC could fine Verizon or suggest ways to improve service or take other action.

The PSC has not determined which, if any, of the documents will be made public.

"We're looking into the complaints," said LaWanda Edwards, the PSC spokeswoman. "We want to make sure customers are being treated fairly and that the company is adhering to the laws of the state."

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