During COVID-19, Internet is a Blessing – Unless You Need Verizon

During COVID-19, Internet is a Blessing – Unless You Need Verizon
Verizon Fios truck. File photo/Bklyner

Over the past month, internet access has helped New Yorkers maintain a vague semblance of the life we had before we were forced to huddle indefinitely in our own homes, together in our aloneness. Virtual dinner parties and Seders and Skype chats with friends and family have made things feel just the slightest bit less weird, and platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts allow employees to check in with their teams while they work from home. Internet can also be a lifeline for some, allowing people to search for food pantries and coronavirus testing facilities.

Charter is currently offering 60 days of free Spectrum Wi-Fi and broadband access to households with children in K-12 and/or college without an existing broadband subscription. While the company originally denied this service to families with unpaid bills, The City reported, they’ve since agreed to waive the bills for New York City families. Optimum, which has also begun offering free service for families with students, has also agreed to waive the bills.

Providers like Verizon have made life difficult for their customers in other ways. Pawel Dlugosz, a former Brooklyn resident whose parents, Jan and Dorota, still live in Greenpoint, said that his parents are living without internet indefinitely due to a mistake on the part of their provider, Verizon Fios.

The company had scheduled a technician to install internet in his parents’ new apartment, two floors down from the unit where they were previously living. In anticipation of internet being installed in the new apartment, Dlugosz said, the company shut off internet in the old unit a day before the installation was slated to take place, without any notice. Then, they cancelled the appointment with little other than a cursory text message, leaving Jan and Dorota without the ability to email, Skype, or FaceTime their family members, including Dlugosz, who lives in Oakland. The couple were also sharing the account with their neighbors, both of whom work in government, and who rely on internet access for their jobs.

When Dlugosz pursued an explanation for the cancellation, he was told by Verizon that all in-person appointments had been cancelled due to COVID-19. When he asked them to simply turn the internet back on, they informed him that this was impossible because his parents’ equipment was outdated.

The situation was further compounded by Verizon’s failure to properly communicate with Dlugosz and his parents, Dlugosz said. Not only did they turn off the internet in the third floor apartment without warning, but they failed to acknowledge the mistake, keeping Dlugosz waiting on the phone for nearly six hours as he attempted to connect with a customer service representative.

Verizon has yet to provide Dlugosz and his parents with any kind of concrete solution, which he finds baffling. “How can a major tech corporation not have a contingency plan?” he said. All he wants is for Verizon to take ownership of their mistake, and to offer a solution. “They’re just like washing their hands of responsibility,” Dlugosz said. The best Verizon has done, he said, is to offer to waive the $99 installation fee when they finally do send technicians out. Dlugosz would prefer that his parents just have their internet turned back on, he said. Self-installation is not an option for his parents, he said, who are not especially tech-savvy and speak limited English.

“I just think that depriving internet access to people in their mid-60s for three weeks is just an insane thing,” Dlugosz said, referring to the amount of time Verizon told him it may take to begin sending out technicians.

Aviva Sokolow-Shahar, a Park Slope resident who will be moving to Ditmas Park with her husband next week, doesn’t expect to have internet anytime soon, either. When she asked Verizon when they could send a technician to install internet in her new apartment, she was told the company wouldn’t be sending any technicians out for the foreseeable future. The alternative, self-installation, isn’t a possibility in the new apartment, even though the couple are already Verizon customers.

“It’s a big issue as my husband is a teacher who has to do live classes every day, and we live in a time when it’s basically impossible to do anything without internet,” said Sokolow-Shahar.

Verizon sent the couple a stand-in date for November 2020, and told Sokolow-Shahar that they would be on a “priority list” when they eventually start sending technicians out. For now, though, Sokolow feels like she’s out of options. “We don’t have a viable solution at the moment,” she said.

For Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy resident Stefanie Lewin, interacting with Verizon was “a nightmare.” She and her partner moved to the neighborhood from Greenpoint on March 21st, and were scheduled to have their internet installed on March 23rd. Verizon proceeded to cancel and reschedule the appointment multiple times via automated text message, Lewin said, “without providing any information or recourse.” The couple spent hours trying to reach a representative who could tell them how long they would need to wait for a technician to come, she said. Eventually, after more than two weeks of waiting, they gave up.

The lack of internet made working from home extremely challenging for Lewin and her partner, both of whom work for nonprofits, and they were only able to get their internet back when they switched over to Optimum.

“We’re not halting all service and repair work,” said David Weissman, Communications Manager for Verizon, in an email to Bklyner. “To reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our employees and customers safe, we are making every attempt to perform work without going into homes or small businesses and are limiting installs.”

Weissman did not respond to our follow-up question of why, if Verizon was not halting all service and repair work, customers were having their appointments cancelled without warning, and were not given the ability to reschedule.

Charter also claims to be continuing service visits. “Our technicians continue to make select service calls to keep our customers and critical service providers connected during the pandemic,” Director of Communications for Charter, John Bonomo, informed us through email. Bonomo noted, however, that technicians first attempt to resolve the issue online or over the phone.

Jenn Flores R, a North Brooklyn Resident, had a fairly smooth experience doing self-installation with Spectrum in the midst of the pandemic. “They sent a self install kit and were pretty helpful over the phone when I had issues later after installing,” Flores R told us over Facebook. “Self install kit was pretty self explanatory and convenient.”