Verizon Wireless is cutting service to 213 customers in Maine, with almost all living in Washington County, according to a Verizon official.
Affected residents, including John Newcomb of Perry and Jessica Leighton of Milbridge, received letters September 11 telling them their cell service will be discontinued as of October 17.
"During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network," reads the letter. "While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17, we will no longer [provide service to your account] since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area."
The letter goes on to recommend finding another provider by October 17 in order to be able to transfer existing numbers and indicates Verizon will waive any outstanding device payments for devices purchased before September 12.
The affected customers live outside the Verizon service area and "use a significant amount of data," says David Weissman, Verizon's public relations manager for the northeast market. In follow‑up emails, Weissman says the Portland‑based firm Wireless Partners LLC owns and operates Verizon's network in Downeast Maine. The affected 213 customers have a total of 455 lines. "The roaming costs generated by these lines exceed what these consumers pay us each month," he says. "We sent these notices in advance so customers have plenty of time to choose another wireless provider. Other operators who may be an option include U.S. Cellular and AT&T."
Verizon is also cutting service to other customers in the country, with a total of 8,500 losing service in 13 states. Some of those customers have stated that they have never exceeded Verizon’s minimal data plan.
It's unclear what Verizon considers to be a "significant" amount of data. Efforts to get clarification from Weissman and other Verizon officials were unsuccessful.
"This loss of wireless communication underscores the importance of our landline network to ensure that individuals can contact public safety officials in the event of an emergency," says Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins in a prepared statement. "Verizon's actions raise new concerns that areas once deemed a competitive marketplace for telecommunications will once again be served only by their landline provider. This possibility should be considered as the deregulation of landline telephone continues throughout the state."
Wireless Partners received no advance warning of the terminations, according to a statement issued by the company. "Along with our network users, we were blindsided to learn that Verizon Wireless mailed subscription cancellation notices to their customers on this network," says the release, adding that the company learned of the terminations directly from customers.
Verizon Wireless did ask Wireless Partners to reduce the contractually agreed costs of using the networks and Wireless Partners was willing to address the issue, says the statement.
"At no point during this dialogue, which continues in earnest, did Verizon Wireless indicate to us their intent to restrict new customers and cancel current customers," the statement says.
Although Wireless Partners attorney Benjamin Marcus claims that the number of affected customers is 2,000, Verizon officials state that the number is only 213.
The state Attorney General's Office is looking into the matter. "We have not made any decisions yet," spokesman Andrew Roth‑Wills says. "We are still looking into it with the [Public Utilities Commission]."