After a late July storm, southern Albemarle County resident Melissa Riley went more than 50 days without internet or phone service before CenturyLink resolved the problem just this past Friday.
Working from home, she had to buy a pay-as-you-go hotspot while still paying for the service she wasn’t getting from the telecommunications company. Riley, who lives along Langhorne Road, said she scheduled multiple service appointments at which no technician showed.
“If this had been a widespread issue, like we had a hurricane and it affected service throughout this area, I would be completely understanding of that; I’d be frustrated, but I would get it,” she said. “But this was a storm that hit maybe a five-mile area down here, and affected a very small number of people.”
Riley is one of dozens in southern Albemarle and the greater Scottsville area who’ve reported CenturyLink service outages since the storm on July 28, while others report they’ve nearly always had issues.
Representatives from CenturyLink, which changed its name to Lumen Technologies last year, did not answer questions by press time.
At the Scottsville Town Council meeting Monday, which starts at 7 p.m., two representatives from CenturyLink, as well as Mike Culp, director of the county’s Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office, will discuss issues and updates on Albemarle’s broadband efforts.
Riley, like many of her neighbors and other rural-area residents, has service provided through copper wires.
Earlier this year, Lumen 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. Lumen will retain its ILEC assets in 16 states.
“Customers served by the Lumen ILEC network will transition to Apollo when the transaction closes. However, today we’re business as usual, and you will receive information when we have news to share,” Lumen said on a frequently asked questions page.
According to Lumen, Apollo will acquire 200,000 fiber-enabled locations and 59,000 fiber subscribers. Lumen will retain 2.4 million fiber-enabled locations and 687,000 fiber subscribers.
County Supervisor Donna Price, who represents the Scottsville District and lives close to the center of the district, said she’s had good interactions with the local CenturyLink representatives but thinks they are not supported at the corporate level.
“I believe that corporate CenturyLink has basically given up and has abandoned their responsibility, which leaves it all upon the individual consumers to either seek some sort of collective relief or basically just suffer until a new provider comes in,” she said. “I think CenturyLink has failed in customer service, in the delivery of service and, I’ll be a little more generous, in the recovery from the storm, because those are really difficult situations.”
Multiple CenturyLink customers around Scottsville have reached out to The Daily Progress about the lack of internet and/or phone service since the storm nearly two months ago. After setting up service appointments, no one shows up or the appointments are canceled, and then customers report receiving a message that their area has been repaired, but they still have no service.
“CenturyLink needs to not only restore their internet service in the Scottsville area, they should provide some compensation to all those who have not only been inconvenienced but have had to deal with the lack of customer support and service all this time,” said Scottsville resident David Butler.
Tom Taylor, who lives in Fluvanna County, canceled his CenturyLink phone service altogether after experiencing two or three issues a year and then recently enduring two months without service, he said. He has signed up to connect to Firefly Fiber Broadband’s phone service, owned by a subsidiary of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative.
“I had a landline phone for insurance, as cellphone service is spotty in the rural areas,” Taylor said. “I am gambling with my health that I don’t have an emergency before my Firefly service is installed.”
At an August Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting, Derek Kelly, who works for CenturyLink, said the storm took down about a mile’s worth of copper wire on Mountain Vista Road, affecting customers along that road, and had still not been repaired as of Aug. 25.
“We ran into logistical issues of being able to find that length of copper,” he said. “I think between COVID and everything else, supplies are limited, so it took us longer than we typically hope for to get the copper in place and get it in town and get it hung back up and spliced in.”
Kelly said sometimes service tickets are marked canceled when they were actually grouped into a larger outage ticket, which happened on Mountain Vista Road.
When asked how many customers were still out, Kelly said he was only aware of those on Mountain Vista Road. County Supervisor Liz Palmer, who represents the Samuel Miller District, said she had been getting many emails from constituents about outages.
Kelly said, “... there’s definitely individual customer issues as every storm goes through.”
He said lightning can do damage on a widespread basis, taking out a piece of equipment or copper wires, or the electricity can run up through a home’s connection to the network.
“We have some protectors on the side of homes that hopefully absorb any of those lightning strikes but when that happens, they end up losing service, so we can go and replace those inside guts on the side of the house,” he said. “It’s not to say we don’t have individual customers out of service on any given day, but as far as outages, [Mountain Vista Road is] the only one I’m aware of.”