Verizon telecom security plan unfair, rival says raises concerns on competition
By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff, 4/11/2002
Verizon Communications’ proposal for improving security at more than 270 Massachusetts telecommunications switching centers would be a ”major step backward” for competition, the head of one of the few surviving Bay State Verizon rivals said yesterday.
Acting in response to a request from the Department of Telecommunications and Energy for ideas on how to prevent terrorist attacks or sabotage targeting critical telecom nerve centers, Verizon is proposing several steps to limit competitors’ physical access to the ”central offices” serving more than four million Massachusetts phone lines.
Verizon urged the DTE to identify what it said would be only a ”handful” of switching stations where, with DTE approval, Verizon would take over all maintenance and control of competitors’ switching devices, an arrangement called ”virtual collocation.”
Verizon suggested virtual collocation could be warranted in switching stations that serve the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Logan International Airport, military bases in Bourne and Chicopee, regional call centers for 911 service, and a few other major switching facilities.
Verizon also said competitors should pay for the improved security measures, such as card-controlled access, surveillance cameras, and increased physical separation of Verizon and non-Verizon switching gear. It did not estimate the cost of the security measures.
Robert Shanahan, chief executive officer of Conversent Communications, a Marlborough-based business telecom service provider that has 30,000 customers in New England, New York, and New Jersey, said, ”I don’t think anything warrants going back to virtual collocation. We’ll fight that one to the death here.”
Shanahan said if Conversent, which has gear in 54 Bay State central offices, had to count on Verizon employees to maintain its equipment and fix breakdowns, ”Verizon would be in complete control of the equipment, and therefore our network, and ultimately our customers. We would be at the mercy of Verizon” to stay in business.
Verizon would be required to guarantee at least as speedy repair service for competitors’ equipment as it provides for its own, and could be fined by the DTE if it failed, Verizon officials said.
Jeff Roberts, a spokesman for AT&T, which serves customers both through rented Verizon lines and its own fiber optic and cable lines, said, ”We absolutely do support the DTE’s effort to provide the best security possible in Massachusetts, but there haven’t been any problems. It’s curious that Verizon is raising these issues, and it could be that it’s another way Verizon is attempting to impede the access it’s obligated to provide” to competitors under federal law.