Albemarle County’s broadband authority supports sending a letter to the State Corporation Commission to express concerns about Centurylink/Lumen and the proposed sale of its assets, the authority’s board members said Wednesday.
At the broadband authority board meeting Wednesday, the members discussed a draft of the letter, which it, or the Board of Supervisors, would submit as a public comment to the SCC, which needs to approve the transfer the local exchange telecommunications services
In 2021, Lumen Technologies, the parent company of CenturyLink, announced it was selling its local exchange carrier operations, its physical mostly-copper phone and DSL network and residential fiber broadband in Virginia and 19 other states to affiliates of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm, as Connect Holdings.
Many CenturyLink customers in Albemarle have had long-standing issues with the company’s phone and internet service, and with getting information about issues in a timely and consistent manner. Across the area, many people have no other options except CenturyLink for phone and/or internet services.
Jason Inofuentes, the county’s broadband program manager, said Lumen staff has declined to answer questions about what’s going to happen after the sale except to emphasize that Connect Holdings has committed a $3 billion investment across all 20 states as part of the sale.
“The questions that remain are related to a willingness to invest in the copper-plant to remedy whatever issues and degradation exists to cause us to have so many reliability issues and outages,” he said.
Inofunetes said the letter is not to endorse or oppose the sale.
“We are simply writing to address our concerns,” he said.
A draft of the letter was not available before press time.
Inofunetes said the letter asks for specific assurances regarding investment in copper plant to improve present level of service.
“This is to actually get our telephones to work reliably and to not have long and extended outages, especially in the interest of public safety,” he said.
The letter also asked for specific assurances that the copper plant would not be de-facto retired — abandoned — nor would it be formally retired without sufficient replacement.
“If these promises are kept, it would secure 911 access for our residents that lack fiber or wireless service in their homes for at least a few years, at the point where there is general availability at every possible residence for fiber service, and nobody else is asking for copper service to be maintained, then that would be a suitable time for Lumen to decide to retire their service,” he said.
To try to get answers about the consistent phone and internet service issues, supervisors had a work session earlier this month with representatives of CenturyLink’s parent company. Few answers were provided to the board.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Steven Brewer, the director of government affairs for CenturyLink/Lumen, said they have been actively working on responses to the county’s questions and have an internal meeting Thursday about the questions.
Mike Culp, the county’s director of its Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office, said they have to be aware of the public safety issues that could be overlooked in this sale.
“I think it’s the broadband authorities role to present something, or nothing, to the SCC as part of this transition because we are aware of the continued issues when there are storms in Albemarle County, there’s delays and restoring telephony services and if people can’t dial 911 then we do have a public safety issue,” he said.
Supervisor Donna Price, who also serves on the board, said she wanted to ask the rest of the Board of Supervisors if it supports the letter at its meeting Feb. 2.
Jim Andrews, another supervisor on the board, questioned Lumen’s comments that it does not intend to make further investments in their infrastructure prior to the sale and how that affects current maintenance of the copper infrastructure.
“I’m really worried about the timing between approval and the eventual closing of the sale, that things would just stop,” he said. “Is it possible to express our concerns that there may need to be continued investments to maintain this infrastructure prior to the sale, regardless of what we expect Connect Holdings to do?”
Members of the public can submit comments to the SCC regarding the sale on the state’s website at scc.virginia.gov/casecomments/Submit-Public-Comments. The deadline for public comment submissions is Feb.17