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Did Verizon NJ Rig the 'Stipulation Agreement' Comments to Erase Their Broadband Obligations?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 10/04/2014 Bruce Kushnick

In January 2014, Verizon New Jersey and the state Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) proposed a stipulation agreement to erase Verizon's commitments to have 100 percent of their territory upgraded with a fiber optic service capable of 45 Mbps in both directions by 2010.

Over the last few months, more than 1,000 comments were filed in this proceeding, and while Verizon complained that the comments opposing this agreement were "inaccurate" or somehow less convincing as they used a form letter, we have uncovered Verizon is doing worse things.

It seems Verizon not only has most of their comments written by Verizon employees, many of whom don't identify themselves, but worse, almost every group backing Verizon has received funding or Verizon is on their board and supplies some financial help.

Verizon -- The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

According to Wikipedia, "The pot calling the kettle black" is "an idiom used to claim that a person is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another."

Verizon claims that comments opposing the stipulation agreement are inaccurate and that the other side has stacked the deck against them:

"The vast majority of comments opposing the Stipulation that have been posted by the Board to date were submitted via a standard form letter generated by the New Jersey State AFLCIO with the subject line 'Tell Verizon to Live Up to the Opportunity New Jersey Agreement.'"

"Other comments opposing the Stipulation offer inaccurate claims about what was contemplated by ONJ or what is in the Stipulation."

Verizon also claims that the AFL-CIO letters are somehow "less convincing."

"AFL-CIO Letters. These letters opposing the Stipulation appear less convincing when the locations of senders are examined -- More than 25 are from people located outside of New Jersey and some appear to be from municipalities not in Verizon's service territory. "

Verizon's comments to degrade others who filed goes on and on.

But, then I get this email:

"You wrote about the Verizon/Department of Public Utilities settlement a week or so ago. I just started noticing a lot of form letters in support of this settlement on the 24th.

"If Google/ the names and email addresses of the people in support of this settlement you will find quite a few of the people are either direct employees of Verizon or have some connection to Verizon. Perhaps Verizon made up this form letter and sent it out to employees and contacts.

"Here are three examples - Example 1, Example 2, Example 3. I'm sure there are more, I think it is dirty for Verizon to misrepresent this issue to politicians by having employees voice support for this bad settlement."

So I check and whaddya know: It appears Verizon has a form letter and there are hundreds who filed comments in support of Verizon.

"I would like to declare my support for the proposed stipulation between your Board Staff and Verizon As it relates to Opportunity New Jersey. The Stipulation will help ensure continued deployment of advanced communications services."

And sure enough, I find that one after the other who signed these form letters didn't mention they worked for Verizon. Two examples:

  • Paul A Sullivan Verizon, NJ regional president of consumer and mass business markets,

  • Tracy Reed, Manager at Verizon

There is another stack of form letters, but at least they admit that they are working for Verizon. It starts:

"As a New Jersey resident and Verizon employee, I am expressing my support for the proposed stipulation between BPU Staff and Verizon. The proposed stipulation is fair and balanced and, under your guidance, will build on the success that the Board and Verizon Have achieved in making the Garden State one of the most wired broadband states in the country."

But what is really disturbing -- when I go through all of the groups that Verizon lists as
"Many individuals and businesses in New Jersey support the broadband
deployment process in the Stipulation," they all have some financial relationship with Verizon.

Here they are, as well as others who filed on behalf of Verizon:

  • New Jersey Technology Council -- Board member, Douglas Schoenberger, VP, Public Policy, Verizon NJ, Inc

  • The Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce -- Donnett Barnett Verley, Director of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, for Verizon New Jersey. "I am responsible for Verizon's philanthropic and community outreach efforts throughout the state. I serve as an active board member of ...the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce."

  • Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce -- "Hi. I'm Rick Ricca, Director - External Affairs. I am responsible for the company's relationship and interaction with municipal and county governments... I also serve on... Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce."

  • The Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey ("CIANJ"), Member of the Board, Sam Delgado V.P. Community & Stakeholder Affairs Verizon

  • Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce -- "Verizon, a telecommunication company received the Member-to-Member Award for its important contribution to Elizabeth's business."

  • Cooper's Ferry Partnership --Verizon is on the Board of Directors. "The organization's operational budget is currently divided into three main categories: board membership... investments from these valued partners that has allowed CFP to grow its mission and expand throughout the city of Camden."

  • Puerto Rican Association for Human Development --"Verizon Presents20,000 to PRAHD"

  • Latino Institute -- Our Partners and Funders, Verizon

  • Gudino, David Joseph -- Associate General Counsel, Verizon Wireless

  • NJ SHARES --"Verizon New Jersey partners with NJ SHARES for Communications Lifeline outreach and enrollment efforts."

In fact, it's hard to identify any legitimate group that supports the Verizon stipulation and is not funded by Verizon.

But it does bring up a very interesting question -- who is paying for their funding or the staff time to be part of these organizations? As we pointed out in our comments, in 2009 and 2010 Verizon New Jersey showed $786 million in losses with an income tax benefit of $321 million, which was used by the corporate parent to lower their tax base. Based on information from Verizon New York for 2011 and 2012, Verizon NJ probably showed losses for those years as well.

There was one commenter supporting Verizon's position that surprised us: Steve Forbes, who chimed in to take shots at AARP and organized labor. Meanwhile, Forbes has been parroting Verizon's statements for the last six months, stating that the companies should be freed of regulations and they'd bring broadband.

There were over 1,000 comments. Against the stipulation agreement are the League of Municipalities, as well as a number of communities, including the City of Newark. Also, the New Jersey Rate Counsel is against the agreement. (I note a correction from my previous piece. They had not filed by the time I wrote the article but their previous track record didn't indicate that they would take a stand against the proposed agreement. Glad they did.)

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