Tech Industry

Verizon to offer 'naked' DSL

The company confirms plans to allow customers to buy DSL services without also buying local phone service.

Verizon Communications will soon become the second Baby Bell in the United States to offer broadband to consumers regardless of whether those customers also buy its local phone service.

The company confirmed on Wednesday that it plans to offer what's been called "naked" digital subscriber line (DSL) service to customers within its local phone region by the end of 2004. Qwest Communications in February announced plans to offer a similar service to its customers.

Up until that point, the Baby Bells typically offered DSL as part of a package with local phone service. Customers who switched local phone providers risked losing their DSL service. Consumer groups argued that this practice locked customers into services with the Baby Bells, while shutting out other DSL competitors.

But now local phone companies seem to be having a change of heart. Some experts say it is a result of more customers abandoning their local phone lines for wireless services and voice over Internet services. The Baby Bells also have lost some local lines to competing phone companies such as AT&T and MCI.

"This reflects how determined the phone companies are to offer any product to help them hold onto a customer," said Jim Penhune, an analyst at Strategy Analytics. "Losing access lines has been their ongoing nightmare, so I understand the motive. But it seems at odds with their strategy of getting customers to buy bundled services."

Verizon's decision to offer naked DSL, or "dry loop" DSL, as the company calls it, was prompted by a law that allows consumers to transfer their local telephone numbers to their cell phones. The company found that many of these customers wanted to continue using their Verizon DSL service. Verizon has already been allowing customers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions to make this switch while maintaining their DSL service since April.

"We consider ourselves a broadband company," said Brianna Gowing, a spokeswoman for Verizon. "Broadband is one of the features that a lot of people want, and we want to be able to offer it to them."

Gowing said that the company hasn't specified the exact timing of when the DSL-only service will be offered to customers, because it must first resolve several technical issues.

She said the company also is considering offering DSL in areas outside its local telephone region, but the technical issues are even more complicated in those instances.

"First, we have to be able to do this in our own backyard," she said. "Then we can consider going outside the region."

News of Verizon's naked DSL offering was first reported Tuesday by the Web site DSL Prime.