Verizon NJ has Poisoned the Notice and Comment Process, Violating the Rules of Administrative Law.

Verizon NJ has Poisoned the Notice and Comment Process, Violating the Rules of Administrative Law.

=================TAKE ACTION:

BACK THIS INVESTIGATION: SEND EMAIL TO: board.secretary@bpu.state.nj.us

ADD IN SUBJECT: Verizon New Jersey, Docket No. T012020155

SAY– WE Request An  Investigation—and a Halt to the Stipulation Agreement. Verizon has poisoned the notice and comment process violating the rules of Administrative Law.

READ MORE: FILINGS, DOCUMENTS, ARTICLES

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Contact:

April 21st, 2014

To the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities,

Over the last few weeks three different news organizations examined the comments filed in support of Verizon New Jersey and the Stipulation Agreement and their conclusions can be summed up by the title of an article in the Consumerist:[1]

“Verizon Brings Fake Grassroots Campaign to New Jersey to Claim Support for Not Bringing Real Broadband,” April 17, 2014

It’s Against the Law

 

This is a fundamental violation of the rules of administrative law. Verizon has poisoned the notice and comment process. Its actions are an assault on the democratic legitimacy of the BPU and demonstrate a scorn for the legislative and administrative process.

We have linked to the articles of journalists/bloggers who diligently researched the comments and found that Verizon used invalid emails and used the names of New Jersey citizens who oppose Verizon’s actions without their knowledge and consent.

We are asking the Board to erase the Stipulation Agreement, conduct a full investigation of Verizon’s manipulation of this proceeding, and make a final decision only on the record after an agency hearing.[2]

By publishing comments under false names, Verizon has violated the constitutional rights of citizens of New Jersey.

Heightened protection is given to speech in public forums, such as parks, streets, and sidewalks, “which by long tradition or by government fiat have been devoted to assembly and debate.” Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Def. & Educ. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 802 (1985) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also State v. DeAngelo, 197 N.J. 478, 485–86 (2009).[3]

Verizon assaulted the notice and comment procedure itself. The purpose of notice and comment “is to afford interested parties the opportunity to present their views on a proposed regulation. See American Cyanamid Co., 231 N.J.Super. at 309. Any regulation not promulgated in ‘substantial compliance’ with the APA procedures is invalid. N.J.S.A. 52:14B–4(d).”[4]

Verizon’s actions are an abuse of process and an attempt to silence free speech. They are as much a threat to the integrity of our system as a SLAPP (Strategic Law Suit Against Public Participation) suit. New Jersey courts have declared, “interested parties have a firmly rooted constitutional privilege of speaking out and protesting in good faith against what they perceive to be [agency error]. The problem in many cases such as this is not too much citizen involvement but too little.”[5]

The BPU must act now in order to preserve the system itself, and to preserve faith in New Jersey’s democracy.

Ars Technica[6]

“Some Verizon ‘supporters” had no idea e-mails were sent on their behalf.’

Stop the Cap[7]

Stop the Cap! did not receive a single reply from any person ready to articulate informed views about the terms of the settlement offer. They were simply asked to lend their names and e-mail addresses to Verizon’s campaign and had never seen the settlement proposal or heard much about it.

Huffington Post[8]

“In fact, it’s hard to identify any legitimate group that supports the Verizon stipulation and is not funded by Verizon.”

This stipulation agreement will harm the economy. It will harm at least 1/3 of all municipalities, and about 50% of all customers. They will never get cable competition, or broadband services from Verizon New Jersey. Worse, Verizon New Jersey plans to downgrade the service it offers many customers, and force them onto more expensive wireless services.

Stop the Cap Found that Emails Didn’t Work and Most Customers Didn’t  Sign On.

 

“Remarkably, 35 of the e-mail addresses turned out to be invalid, so we contacted an extra 35 and 12 of those e-mail addresses were invalid as well. We found this unsettling because the only identifying information attached to the pro-Verizon correspondence was a name and e-mail address. We couldn’t be sure the authors were New Jersey residents much less real people.

“We received 18 replies. Several were Verizon retirees asked to sign letters of support for Verizon. Another five had no idea what we were talking about and denied they submitted any views, pro or con, about Verizon. Three of those were Comcast customers that said goodbye to Verizon more than a decade earlier. Many others were associated with groups that happen to receive financial support from Verizon. Several  had no broadband access and were using dial-up.”

Ars Technica Found the Same Malfeasance

 

“We didn’t try to verify the authenticity of every e-mail, but did send messages to a couple of dozen of the sending addresses. One address turned out to be invalid. The owner of another e-mail address said he had no idea that he was listed as a supporter of the campaign.

“I am a customer only to Verizon and I was not contacted by them to submit anything,” the person told Ars. “If they did, I would’ve slammed them. They are gougers. If AT&T was where I lived, I would switch in a heart beat.”

“When this customer was shown the e-mail he allegedly sent to state officials, he said, “That would mean someone did it on my behalf. I can assure you that I did not send that response.”

Huffington Post Found that Every Group Mentioned had Financial Assistance or Ties to Verizon New Jersey

 

“But what is really disturbing — when I go through all of the groups that Verizon lists as “Many individuals and businesses in New Jersey support the broadband deployment process in the Stipulation,” they all have some financial relationship with Verizon.”

Here they are, as well as others who filed on behalf of Verizon:

  • New Jersey Technology Council Board member, Douglas Schoenberger, VP, Public Policy, Verizon NJ, Inc
  • The Meadowlands Chamber of CommerceDonnett Barnett Verley, Director of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, for Verizon New Jersey. “I am responsible for Verizon’s philanthropic and community outreach efforts throughout the state. I serve as an active board member of …the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.”
  • Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce — “Hi. I’m Rick Ricca, Director – External Affairs. I am responsible for the company’s relationship and interaction with municipal and county governments… I also serve on… Greater Paterson Chamber of Commerce.”
  • The Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (“CIANJ”), —Member of the Board, Sam Delgado V.P. Community & Stakeholder Affairs Verizon
  • Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce — “Verizon, a telecommunication company, received the Member-to-Member Award for its important contribution to Elizabeth’s business.”
  • Cooper’s Ferry Partnership —Verizon is on the Board of Directors. “The organization’s operational budget is currently divided into three main categories: board membership. . . investments from these valued partners that has allowed CFP to grow its mission and expand throughout the city of Camden.”
  • Puerto Rican Association for Human Development —”Verizon Presents20,000 to PRAHD
  • Latino InstituteOur Partners and Funders, Verizon
  • Gudino, David JosephAssociate General Counsel, Verizon Wireless
  • NJ SHARES — “Verizon New Jersey partners with NJ SHARES for Communications Lifeline outreach and enrollment efforts.”

Articles:

Endnotes


[1] Kate Cox, Verizon Brings Fake Grassroots Campaign To New Jersey To Claim Support For Not Bringing Real Broadband, The Consumerist (Apr. 17, 2014) http://consumerist.com/2014/04/17/verizon-brings-fake-grassroots-campaign-to-new-jersey-to-claim-support-for-not-bringing-real-broadband/.

[2] N.J. Stat. Ann. § 52:14B-4 (West).

[3] Besler v. Bd. of Educ. of W. Windsor-Plainsboro Reg’l Sch. Dist., 201 N.J. 544, 570 (2010).

[4] D.I.A.L., Inc. v. New Jersey Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs, 254 N.J. Super. 426, 438 (App. Div. 1992).

[5] Baglini v. Lauletta, 338 N.J. Super. 282, 302 (App. Div. 2001) (citation omitted, internal quotation marks removed).

[6] Jon Brodkin, Verizon led massive astroturf campaign to end NJ broadband obligation, Ars Technica (Apr. 16 2014, 11:25 AM) http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/verizon-led-massive-astroturf-campaign-to-end-nj-broadband-obligation/.

[7] Phillip Dampier, Verizon’s Curious Allies, Employees Urge N.J. Regulators to Forget about FiOS Fiber Expansion, Stop The Cap (Apr. 3, 2014) http://stopthecap.com/2014/04/03/verizons-curious-allies-employees-urge-n-j-regulators-to-forget-about-fios-fiber-expansion/.

[8] Bruce Kushnick, Did Verizon NJ Rig the ‘Stipulation Agreement’ Comments to Erase Their Broadband Obligations?, Huffington Post (Apr. 10, 2014, 2:27 PM) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/verizon-nj-rigged-the-stipulation-agreement-comments-to-erase-their-broadband-obligations_b_5071468.html.

 


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