Can you hear me now? depends on where you live

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:32

Some Verizon customers on the Upper West Side are in the third week of a phone and internet outage that has businesses and residents wondering how a chunk of Manhattan can simply be knocked off the grid.

“I heard the entire east side of Columbus Avenue between 87th Street and 89th Street has had a Verizon cable problem,” said Andrew Albert, executive director of the West Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “Council member Helen Rosenthal’s offices, as well as Goddard-Riverside [Community Center], have been without phone service for several days.”

Rosenthal sent an email to constituents on Wednesday, Feb. 4, informing them that phones were down in the district office, which is located at Columbus Avenue and 87th Street. Rosenthal believed the problem would be fixed in a matter of days, according to the email.

The following Monday, Feb. 9, she and her chief of staff, Marisa Maack, decided to discontinue their service with the company and began using a digital phone service through the city council (the district office phone number was not changed).

“We abandoned Verizon,” Maack said. “There was a real lack of responsiveness, and it turned out to be a more major problem. But to be honest with you I could never really get a real answer from them on what exactly the problem was.”

Maack said there was a real concern with reaching seniors who don’t use email or the internet and would have no way of knowing the phones were down.

“When you called you just got a busy signal,” said Maack. “We get a lot of phone calls every day. And in the winter it’s hard for some people to get out. We’re providing social services out of the office so we just couldn’t have this.”

Rita McMahon, co-founder and director of the Wild Bird Fund on Columbus Avenue between 87th Street and 88th Street, said phones at the office are unusually silent and their internet service has been out since Feb. 3.

“It’s an animal hospital; we can’t change the records and we can’t take donations,” said McMahon. “It affects the animals too. We can’t respond to peoples’ problems or inquires and with this cold weather people are finding more and more animals that are in distress.”

McMahon said she’s also experienced a lack of good information and communication from Verizon and is considering dropping the company.

“We’ve heard very little from Verizon,” said McMahon. “We’ve heard it will take 10 days to repair.”

McMahon said the latest date for repair provided to her by the company was Friday, Feb. 20.

John Bonomo, a spokeswoman for Verizon’s northeast bureau, said the only outage he was aware of was in northern Manhattan at 188th Street and Wadsworth Avenue. He said he’s since reached out to Verizon’s operations department to get more information.

“I can tell you that on Feb. 4 our cables were involved in a manhole fire. We do not know the origin,” Bonomo said. “We replaced fiber cable that was burnt for the FIOS services, and we are currently replacing a damaged copper cable, [which is] much more entailed and work intensive.”

Bonomo said Verizon is offering their VoiceLink product to affected customers, which will provide voice-only service over the company’s wireless network. Because he was not aware of the problem on the Upper West Side, he could not give a date for when it would be fixed.

Bonomo said Verizon received 88 reports of phone and internet outages in this most recent service disruption.

“The only area where we have had a chunk of customers having problems is [around 188th Street and Wadsworth Avenue], as a result of the manhole fire,” said Bonomo. “Certainly there may be other customers on the Upper West Side who may have repair issues, but none as a result of any widespread problem.” Bonomo said a pair of copper wires, twisted together, provides basic telephone and, if subscribed, internet service. They take longer to repair, he said, because, “a copper cable contains hundreds, or thousands, of individual pairs of copper wires. When that cable is damaged, each of those pairs of wires must be spliced back together.”

Bonomo indicated that many times, it’s hard to tell how big an area is affected by an outage caused by a manhole fire.

“Manhole fires, which are not caused by us, are not common,” he said. “But when they do occur, they affect everything in that manhole, not just Verizon facilities: power, water, gas, cable and other communications services. There’s no simple or single answer to how large or small an area could be affected by a manhole fire.”

Meantime, the wait for phone service on the Upper West Side continues.