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Top BPU commissioner will head probe into Verizon's copper-line problems in South Jersey

 The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities said on Monday that its top commissioner, Richard R. Mroz, will lead a probe into copper-line service complaints against Verizon Communications Inc. in parts of South Jersey.

More than a dozen towns filed a petition last year claiming that Verizon has failed to maintain its copper phone lines, leading to bad phone connections and slow internet speeds. Residents say they lose phone service in the rain and during foggy days.

Mroz's appointment comes as the towns and Verizon have failed to reach a settlement in the dispute, the Board of Public Utilities said in a statement.

Mroz, the board president at the BPU who was appointed to the post by Gov. Christopher J. Christie in 2014, will "rule on the motions, issue a procedural schedule and and preside over any hearings," the New Jersey regulatory agency said.

Greg Facemyer, a committeeman in Hopewell Township, Cumberland County, said that the South Jersey towns have been treated like "second-class citizens" and the New Jersey regulatory agency is "hearing our plea."

"We're very pleased that th BPU has recognized the serious concerns of 17 communities who are fighting for a level telecommunications playing field," Facemyer said.

Verizon spokesman Ray McConville said on Monday the telecom giant was working with the BPU and other parties to resolve the matter. Verizon is upgrading its copper network in South Jersey and has extended DSL internet service to 2,000 residents who didn't previously have it, he said.

"We will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the towns," McConville said.