N.Y. town's plan to go all-wireless causes much debate

July 5, 2013 at 3:23 PM
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FIRE ISLAND, N.Y., July 5 (UPI) -- A seaside New York town hit by Hurricane Sandy is rebuilding itself with a redesigned, all-wireless phone system some residents say they don't want.

Verizon, the only phone company servicing Fire Island, said it wants the island and its 500 homes to go all-wireless, replacing the century-old copper wire phone network with an experimental wireless service that sends calls between cell towers and home receivers, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Verizon and other carriers pushing such systems say they can create economic growth, offering new home functions such as video conferencing, streaming games and hundreds of high-definition television channels over cable networks. Some phone customers are concerned about rapid changes to a traditional service that had become a reliable, invisible utility.

Verizon's Fire Island system, called Voice Link, lacks many basic functions of land-line phones, leaving customers without the option of DSL Internet, fax machines or the ability to process credit cards or operate cash machines.

Heart monitors that connect patients to hospitals over phone lines won't work over wireless either.

That's led many on Fire Island to say they're not interested in the technology of the future.

"I would pay anything to keep my copper phones," said Tara McBride, who switched to Verizon's wireless service after the company declined to repair her home phone line.

She said she fears the service won't be as reliable in bad weather or in times of emergency.

"This is a basic public safety issue and obligation," McBride said. "Seems like they jumped to all these new technologies without providing basic services."

Verizon has received conditional permission from state regulators to replace copper lines with its voice-only wireless service, while the Federal Communications Commission is reviewing Verizon's petition to permanently end wired land-line service on the island.

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