The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will hold two public hearings Thursday in order to give residents an opportunity to discuss alleged poor service by Verizon in parts of South Jersey.

The hearings will take place at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Estell Manor Elementary School in Estell Manor, Atlantic County.

This follows a petition filed by officials in 16 towns complaining about poor service provided by the company.

According to state Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, swaths of South Jersey have not been wired for Fios, Verizon's high-speed fiber optic network. At the same time, "maintenance of the land lines is not what it should be," leaving many residents with no way to switch service providers.

"We were hopeful there would be Fios coming into many more communities throughout the entire state so there would be more competition," he said. "More competition in the cable industry means telephone, cable and internet prices that are going to be less.”

He explained some residents in South Jersey are forced to rely on older technology to talk on the phone and get online.

“Unfortunately, folks who do not have any other option other than copper lines with DSL, it does affect their internet service as well,” he said.

Van Drew said this is having a negative impact on education, because “children aren’t able to access the internet as well or as easily at home or in some cases even in libraries and so forth, it puts them on an unfair footing.”

He added these problems are also affecting emergency management issues as well as small businesses because “they’re not able to compete as well, not able to supply their goods and services as well because they don’t have the same level and the same speed and the same quality of internet service.”

“These problems affect everyone, from individuals who are worried about staying connected from their homes, to folks that are concerned about competing in business and farming, in education and agriculture. It’s part of today’s life. It’s very important.”

Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, said the company is looking forward to hearing from customers at the hearings.

“We’ll be at the hearings and listen to every customer’s concerns and they can be confident we will act on anything that we need to act on,” he said.

McConville stressed “Verizon has invested over a hundred million dollars in the last two years for maintaining and improving the copper network in South Jersey. You know we’ve been listening very carefully to the towns' concerns, and we’ve done over 600 visual inspections of our wiring facilities in the area and we’ve fixed any problems that we’ve discovered. We’re very focused on delivering quality and reliable service in south Jersey.”

He also said the data show efforts made by Verizon have paid off.

“We have a trouble report rate down there that is consistently better than the BPU standards,” said McConville. “I think our track record shows that when problems are brought to our attention, we address them and we fix them.

“It’s important for customers to know if they’re having an issue with their phone or internet service, they need to report it to use because we can’t fix something we don’t know about," he said.

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