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Consumer Alert

Phone carriers migrating from copper to fiber optic lines

Q. I’ve gotten lots of solicitations from Verizon lately to switch my landline phone from the copper wire service to fiber optic. I want to stay with the copper wire service as long as it’s available. So I was taken aback when the service technician I scheduled because of a buzzing sound on the line told me his work order was to switch me to Fios. The technician said that it was a “forced migration.” I called the business office and was told that consumers are supposed to receive an official letter notifying them of a pending “migration.” As Verizon tries to sidle away from an aging technology, I’m wondering what consumer protections apply. Has Massachusetts taken a position?

MARCIA LIPSON, Waltham

A. This is a complex issue. You can hang on to copper wire for as long as you can, but Verizon is converting areas that have had repair problems to a fiber optic network. The main advantage to copper wire is that it can carry power. When there’s a power outage, a phone connected to a copper wire line will still work, while the technically superior fiber optic lines will work only as long as a battery back-up does.

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It shouldn’t cost more to make the switch. “Their phone plan, and the price, remain the same while they get much better, more reliable service,” Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said. “We foot the entire expense.”

That’s fiber optic, not Fios. Confused?

Fios is the fiber optic bundle of services Verizon provides that includes Internet, phone, and pay TV. It’s not the same as basic fiber optic phone service. Fios is not regulated, the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable warns. Copper wire and basic fiber optic phone services are.

Before accepting a switch to fiber optic service, the department recommends asking about issues such as battery back-up, costs, and the impact on home security devices, spokeswoman Jayda Leder-Luis said.

“Because this is a technology upgrade . . . the department does not have the authority to interfere with this change, so consumers must either switch to fiber or switch carriers,” she said.

The department issued a detailed advisory about the issue that is worthwhile reading.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and can be reached at consumernews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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