Verizon’s $73K bill to volunteer fire company has community burning mad

010517blog chincoteague fire department
Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Co.

Residents of a small island community in Virginia are up in arms over Verizon insisting the town’s volunteer fire company pony up $73,000 to have telecommunications equipment moved off a parcel of land on which the department is building a new firehouse.

(UPDATE, Jan. 6: T-Mobile's John Legere gets involved.)

At the center of the clash is the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which besides selflessly protecting the island’s 3,000 residents is also renowned for its stewardship over the Chincoteague Ponies, a herd of 150 wild horses that, well, has nothing to do with the Verizon dispute but is so interesting you should take a few minutes to check out this website.

010517blog chincoteague pony swim U.S. Coast Guard

Wild ponies swim across the Assateague Channel into Chincoteague, Va.

While Verizon is being eviscerated on the fire company’s Facebook page, the service provider tells a local reporter that the community is underestimating the scope of what’s being asked. (And there is no reason to believe Verizon has anything against ponies.)

“If we have to pay the $73,000 they are asking from us then something in our budget is going to take a hit,” Denise Bowden, a fire company spokesperson, writes on Facebook. “Our fundraising money buys $500k fire trucks, $200k ambulances plus outfitting them and also takes care of our PRECIOUS PONIES that everyone loves. We cannot understand how this company can justify these prices.”

OK, maybe the ponies do have something to do with this dispute.

As for Verizon’s justification, here is what the company told

 “What’s been missing from the story about the cost to complete the work is this: We’re not talking about moving a phone line or two. This is about relocating some 1,100 feet of 1200-pair copper cable along with fiber optic lines serving a large portion of Chincoteague Island. To meet the fire department’s specifications, we proposed burying those cables - an expensive process - but there are other ways to accomplish this. We’ll consider any design changes they are willing to make to reduce costs or lessen the impact to the island’s telecom equipment.”

Not everyone chiming in on Facebook sees Verizon as a villain:

“They have an easement established by law to have those lines in place and (the fire company) should have known about this before now,” writes one commenter. “Verizon is under no obligation to even move the line and if you want it moved, you have to pay to have it done just like everyone else who places a commercial building within a utility right-of-way.”

I have no horse in this race myself, but the choices for Verizon would seem clear:

Does it want to be a good corporate citizen and swallow the $73,000 tab?

Or does it want to be accused of taking hay out of the mouths of these famous ponies?

Seems like an easy call for a company the size of Verizon.

(Update, Jan. 6: Enter T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who took to social media Thursday evening both to chastise Verizon for its business decision and vow to pick up the $73,000 tab for the fire company if Verizon doesn't come around.)

(Update, Jan. 20: Verizon and the firefighters make peace.)

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