At least 66 CenturyLink customers in the greater Scottsville area are still having issues with their internet or phone service, according to a representative from the company, as some report being without internet or phone for more than two months.
On Monday night, Scottsville Town Council heard from a CenturyLink representative, staff from Albemarle County’s Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office and Albemarle Supervisor Donna Price about internet and phone issues in the area and what’s being done to resolve them.
Trish Stipanovich, CenturyLink’s manager for field operations for Virginia, said the 66 service tickets for a mix of phone and internet services were all opened Sept. 1 or later, and the company plans to have them resolved by the end of the month.
The open tickets are due to a mix of weather-related issues and other problems, she said, as there are still issues on streets where cables and wires downed during the July 28 storm have been fixed.
“We’re going to go back to those individual customers and [check] is that something related to the cable we fixed, is it something in there inside their home for hiring, maybe a modem, so we want to make sure the customer gets taken care of,” Stipanovich said.
Dozens of the telecommunications company’s customers in southern Albemarle and the greater Scottsville area have reported CenturyLink service outages since a large storm came through the area on July 28. Others reported that they’ve nearly always had issues.
CenturyLink changed its name to Lumen Technologies last year. Lumen recently announced it is selling its incumbent local exchange carrier operations, its physical mostly-copper phone and DSL network, in Virginia and 19 other states to affiliates of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm.
“The Apollo announcement indicated that it would be for all customers who we have currently, that we provide services on [the incumbent local exchange carrier] to,” Stipanovich said. “To the best of my knowledge, that would be all of the customers currently here, regardless of their technology.”
Mike Culp, director of the county’s broadband office, said the situation is frustrating for county officials trying to help solve the problems that people are having. The county is not receiving direct information from Lumen or Apollo about how the transition will affect customers. Culp said that the companies simply tell him to go to Lumen’s frequently asked questions page on the transition to Apollo.
“That’s frustrating for me — we’re going to try to set up something to get a more broadened definition of what’s going on with the transition,” he said.
The county’s broadband office is working to compile and categorize internet and phone service complaints from any providers across Albemarle to send to the Federal Communications Commission.
“We’re not limiting those to complaints we’ve received about CenturyLink; we’re also looking at everything,” Culp said.
Internet access has been an long-standing issue in rural Albemarle and the pandemic has further brought those issues to light.
Albemarle has been successful at receiving state money for broadband projects through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative with Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Comcast and three rounds of projects with CenturyLink.
CenturyLink and Albemarle are starting work on a project that will provide the opportunity for 1,675 locations to connect to fiber internet.
“We’re going to be working much more closely with CenturyLink and Lumen trying to understand why there’s a big drop off in customer service,” Culp said. “We know the fiber network is going to much improve services, we’re just working with them together as a partner to make sure that we’re addressing the ongoing issues in all portions of the county. We have issues that are stretching throughout every nook and cranny of the county. The old copper lines are certainly the biggest issue that we have these days.”
Most recently, the county is part of submission for Virginia Telecommunication Initiative funds for a project that could bring fiber to underserved residents in 13 counties through Firefly Fiber Broadband, a subsidiary of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. The state definition of underserved is having a download speed under 25 megabits per second and an upload speed under three megabits per second.
Albemarle has committed more than $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to the proposal if it moves forward.
Culp said that people can also utilize WiFi in the parking lots at the Yancey School Community Center, Scottsville Elementary and the Scottsville Library. The county is also considering getting a mobile WiFi unit to target specific areas.
Councilor Zachary Bullock said the commitment to broadband in southern Albemarle “is much appreciated,” and it’s helpful for people to hear the big picture of projects and grants.
“I myself was without internet for eight weeks and had two dropped service calls — I found another option,” he said. “In terms of individual providers, I think consumers are going to vote with their feet on this one. My request to the county would be to make sure you’re working with the right people to make sure that we’re getting the coverage that we need there.”