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Verizon landline phone service is ho-hum, but new DSL customers must get it

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Verizon is now compelling new subscribers to its DSL Internet service to also take landline voice service. Yet that phone service, like comparable services from AT&T, Frontier, and others, received only middling satisfaction scores in our newly released survey* of subscribers’ home telecom services, including Ratings of phone, Internet, and TV services.

The decision, which went into effect on May 6, has been decried by Consumers’ Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, which says it will "further reduce the affordability and availability of broadband services to consumers." In addition to the new-customer provision, Verizon customers whose DSL service predates May 6 and do not have landline voice service would be required to take it, should they want to make changes to their DSL service.

A letter to the Federal Communications Commission from CU and more than 15 other groups said the Verizon move "essentially forces consumers to purchase local services they do not want—either because they have a wireless option or because they prefer to use VoIP or other alternatives." Other results from the Consumer Reports survey make it clear that, in many households, a home phone just isn’t the necessity it once was. Some 24 percent of our readers have no service, and the leading reason cited by those who dropped it in the past two years was that they didn’t use their home phoneit at all or enough to justify its cost.

Even for readers who have landline phone service, satisfaction for traditional landline service was generally lower than for some other, newer alternatives. For example, among the top-scoring services was Ooma, the standalone Net-based phone service that, after an investment in equipment, offers free domestic calling and low-cost international calls.

Also, while Verizon’s traditional landline service was mediocre in satisfaction, its fiber-based FiOS phone service scored considerably higher, as did FiOS Internet service compared with Verizon DSL. Yet FIOS is far less widely available than Verizon DSL, which largely uses older, slower networks than the fiber offering.

CU and other groups also raised concerns that the new Verizon policy could impede those who currently have both voice and DSL services from the company and want to change their phone service to another carrier. While that has customarily resulted in Verizon porting the number to the new carrier, the groups say it’s unclear how the company may now treat such requests.

The Verizon move, the groups say, is reason for the FCC to finish an examination it began in 2005 to examine "the competitive consequences when providers bundle their legacy services with new services, or ’tie’ such services together such that the services are not available independent from one another to end users." The Verizon move is among the boldest provider efforts to ensure that its Internet subscribers also pay for phone service. But, as our report notes, other telecom providers effectively discourage dropping phone service by reducing or even eliminating the discount for getting a triple-play package (TV, Internet, and phone) when phone service is dropped. If you’re contemplating cutting your landline service from a triple-play bundle, check what you’ll actually save; it may be less than you assume.

* Results reported here are from the 2011 Annual Questionnaire sent to all Consumer Reports subscribers. This year’s survey is currently in the field. ConsumerReports.org subscribers who wish to complete the survey may access it by logging in to their accounts here: https://ec.consumerreports.org/ec/myaccount/login.htm.

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