It’s been five months since 77-year-old Arquilla Heard has been able to make a phone call.
Since Sandy, the Far Rockaway resident — and many of her neighbors in the Ocean Bay Houses — have had no cell phone service from Verizon.
Heard has received monthly phone bills since the storm, some reaching nearly $200. Despite not having service, she paid November’s bill, but has since refused to make payments.
“Maybe I have my own wires crossed, but to bill people without service seems negligent to me,” said Councilmember Donovan Richards. “For my seniors and my youth who may have had an emergency and no phone to dial out, this is a crime.”
“I don’t have the money to keep paying bills,” said Heard. “I need my phone. It’s a necessity.”
On Monday, March 25, Richards held a press conference outside the Ocean Bay Houses demanding that Heard and others in her predicament receive a six-month credit for the services they have not received since October, as well as an additional three-month credit for the inconvenience.
“It’s a crying shame that Verizon is so insensitive that they would still send bills to people’s mailboxes,” he said.
Since the storm, the community has been left without an explanation about service or billing, and although phone booths have been put up, many don’t work, according to residents.
Verizon, however, said it has offered customers free wireless devices for their telephone service. They have also restored service to nearly 6,200 Rockaway customers since the storm. They are working closely with the New York City Housing Authority to fully restore all service.
“Sandy severely damaged Verizon’s network serving all of Rockaway, including [the Ocean Bay Houses]. By the end of this month, we will begin restoring service to all those who live in the complex from 54th to 59th Streets on our brand new state-of-the-art fiber optic network. We are now working with the housing authority to gain access to the apartments from 51st to 53rd Street,” said a Verizon spokesperson.
Gian Jones lives in Bayswater and was without his Verizon FiOS service for about a month. He too continued to receive bills, but snagged a rebate after repeatedly calling the company.
“There might be some technical issues [with service lines] that we don’t know about,” he said. “But it took continuously calling them and fighting them to see a credit. There’s no reason why Rockaway residents should be paying a bill. At the very least, service should be suspended.”
Residents also noted that not only is there a lack of phone service, but Verizon power lines remain hanging from poles to this day.
“You can walk into the hanging wires,” said Felicia Johnson, Rockaway resident and Community Board 14 member.
“Verizon has really just neglected the community at large.”
“If you can send me a bill, why can’t you send me a letter saying, ‘This is where we are, this is what we’re going to do,’” she added.
Richards asks that any resident with phone service problems get in touch with his office.
“Common decency is needed,” he said. “My residents cannot afford to not have phone service for another day.”