BROADBAND IN RURAL WV: BROKEN PROMISES, BROKEN DREAMS - Dobbins Explains Your Broadband Woes, Offers Helpful Suggestions

(02/04/2013)

William Dobbins of Chloe is a computer expert with a double Associates in Applied Computer Sciences from Glenville State College, and has been offering computer related services for 11 years. He writes about his frustration trying to operate services on a system that has become more dysfunctional in rural Calhoun County. Rural WV has the worst, or near worst, broadband speeds in the USA.

Dobbins' article will likely answer many of your questions, with suggestions about what might help.

By William Dobbins

Since 2008 we have had DSL access of up to 3Mbps in the Chloe area. Although most of us only get 1.5Mbps.

As recently as July, I started noticing a major slow down on the Internet between 2pm and midnight, peaking around 7pm. After many hours of calling and talking to Frontier, I discovered that this is indeed peak time congestion, not unique to our area.

It is directly a result of the over selling the existing potential of the infrastructure in our area coupled with a super high increase in traffic from handheld devices and video game systems.

I interviewed three very nice people from Frontier Communications who were kind enough to give it to me strait: Dan Page, Communications Manager; Tammy Shingleton, General Manager over Central WV; and Fred Saunders – Manager Outside Plan Engineer.

We had a teleconference for 47 minutes. They answered almost every question. Here are the questions and a paraphrased responses:

-Can you comment on the Chloe and rural Calhoun congestion and rural congestion? "We are aware of the problems. We are working very hard every single day to update, upgrade and bring the customers the services that they need. We know what will remedy the problems with the congestion and are currently working on many projects to do just that. In Calhoun area, we have a project that will alleviate many of the congestion issues you mention."

-What will be done to alleviate the congestion? "Running fiber will most definitely relieve the problems, but there are still copper lines between the homes and the DSLAM, and that means that there will still be limits. Surely higher speeds will be available by the date of completion of this project in your county...sometime around July."

-What benefits if any would come from capping and setting data limits on this network? "Frontier does not want to get into capping customers."

- Are there plans for VoIP? "In fact business customers in your area can already sign up for this. Perhaps we will be seeing more and more homes on VoIP, but it is not without it's faults, and it seems that the terrestrial, landlines are more reliable." (Customers who have this pricy service report it is not worth it)

-Are there alternatives that Frontier offers instead of their land-line based DSL connection? "Yes, Absolutely. You can call and request information about the satellite options we have available." (Many customers who have satellite service say they are unhappy)

_Are you aware of alternatives to satellite and landline based DSL? "Frontier is investigating and investing in many wireless technologies, similar to the Ubiquiti Radio Networks you speak of. The implementation of such networks are not applicable in your area." (The Ubiquiti Systems are not entirely unique but are an emerging technology that could replace terrestrial land-lines in the future)

-What can be done about being charged full price for a service we don't receive fully? "Call in and let them know of the problem. There should be applicable credits and discounts that will ensure you are treated fairly."

Here in Calhoun County, like many places in rural America, there seems to be a disconnect between the promise and the reality of broadband internet.

For many years we have been promised "broadband," a term that I have concluded has lost it's real meaning.

West Virginia currently defines broadband as 200Kbps and the rest of America defines it as 10Mbps, a huge difference.

This means a definition change is required to get Frontier and other communication companies motivated to offer us the faster services.

In Chloe, WV and in Calhoun County we were on dial up so long that when DSL and Satellite became available at close to reasonable rates - we jumped on it.

I started paying 25 dollars a month for DSL instead of 15 for dial up, and I was quite impressed. I could watch Netflix and YouTube with almost no hesitation.

There have been some ups and downs with it through the time. However, about eight months ago the speeds started to drop, and the price started going up.

Now I pay $38 a month for DSL which is at times almost as slow as dial up speeds. This is unacceptable.

We are not getting the promised speeds, some of us are not even getting 10% of promised speeds during these peak times.

Most of us in Chloe, WV during peak times, 2pm to midnight, get less than 10% of the promised speed.

Let me break it down a little.

The details can be a little overwhelming.

Here in Chloe we are promised up to 1.5Mbps connection for "X" dollars a month.

Even the cost between customers vary. I was paying $25 when others were paying $35. Now I am paying $38 and others are paying as much as $49 for the same thing.

The 1.5Mbps connection should have a minimum of 1.1mbps available.

During what Frontier is calling peak usage congestion, I am getting speeds around .08Mbps, which is well below 10% of the promised speeds.

Please note that Frontier says there is no actual promised speeds, however their advertising and promotions seem to tell a different story.

The people affected are not just me, but indeed all over rural Calhoun and rural West Virginia.

The math is a little hard to explain but essentially .08Mbps a second is relative to two times dial up.

Netflix, Hulu, YouTube is out of the question, streaming music is nearly impossible and checking email is often times not able to be done in a timely manner, not alone trying to operate a business with requires lots of data.

Seeming to promise a 1.5Mbps connection then delivering almost 1/20th of that speed should be something that is illegal, and could be if we were to regulate the communications networks like we do utility companies.

There is no regulation, apparently, except the FCC.

Regulation of course would help stop the price fluctuations and shoddy service.

The congestion that we are experiencing is directly caused by Frontier overselling the DSL.

In my area of Chloe there is enough bandwidth on the T1 lines for 160 customers or so. The copper T1 lines are outdated but they have sold it to more than 190+ customers.

There is the option for customers to have a second DSL line for a little less than their first, however this does little to relieve the congestion and in fact complicates it.

So they oversold the DSL and underestimated the number of people in this area. Which is a shame because we are still paying the full amount for the service.

Frontier continues to over estimate the amount of bandwidth then oversell, however in this area they will not sell anymore according to a statement from Frontier.

This is not entirely Frontier's fault. The congestion would not be a problem if the fiber infrastructure was run into our area. So in WV there are many promised projects that call for rolling out fiber.

Unfortunately many of these undertaken projects are falling short and not coming to affected areas fast enough.

My suggestion is to call Frontier every chance you get, and let them know you are experiencing the same slow peak times and that it is completely unfair for us the customer to be expected to pay for something we are obviously not getting.

I know many other customers who have done this and they received a discount and refund, but for me they gave me a whole month free.

I will call again if DSL speeds do not improve.

At the end of this article there are links to contact Frontier, and demand fair treatment. There is satellite options available for an alternative, but satellite has it's own issues.

I have been told by technicians and service men working for Frontier that the only remedy for our area to stop having slow internet is for Frontier Communications to run fiber optic cable from Orma, about 6 miles away.

Frontier and the people I spoke with assure me that at least some of the congestion will be fixed with the up coming finalization of the project that is set to be done in July.

Frontier has a policy not to discuss projected plans and dates too much, because they are a competitive business.

I believe that if communications were considered a utility, then we would have a much leveler playing field and more oversight with regulation.

What is desperately needed is for the Public Service Commission (PSC) to make Frontier and all internet providers adhere to rules and regulations of a utility, which is not the case currently.

The consideration that utilities are given are under greater regulation and scrutiny by the government as to alleviate things like price gouging and shoddy service.

In the city, much faster speeds are available for less money than we pay here. People down the road might even pay less or more than me, for the same service.

I am uncertain why this is.

It makes no sense to offer "price plans" or bundling, this seems counter intuitive and more like a scam. I would like to see them just offer internet at X dollars for X service.

To recap, Frontier here in Calhoun County has been promising us broadband, then they gave some of us broadband, but then oversold the number of connections on the infrastructure we have.

Please call this number 1-877-462-6606 and tell them if you are unhappy with your substandard internet service, and that you are experiencing peak time slow downs very badly, and that you think that you should be given a discount for the service.

The phone number is the local Charleston, WV office, wait times could be as long as 20 minutes, but it is worth it. They are nice people doing their job, they will help you.

I urge you to call and complain. I urge you to ask questions about your billing, if something on your bill should not be there, call them and complain.

I have caught many discrepancies on bills of family and friends. I know first hand that there are times when the charges you are being charged do not fit the services you have.

I also know complaining is sometimes looked upon as frivolous but with a giant communications company it is the only feedback they get from the customers.

Fill out their surveys truthfully when they ask you to. This is another great way to let them know what you feel about their services. They have awesome customer support, but if we can pressure them, maybe we can have great service too. Again the blame is not Frontier's to bear alone.

WV will remain behind the times, and in dead last in the online economy because we need fast, reliable broadband.

WV businesses will not be able to keep up if the game is not stepped up. Forcing business to move out of state, forcing people to remain off of the edge of the internet revolution.

For more information on broadband and the possible misuse of funds, please check out the following sites. They get into this subject much more in depth.

www.westvirginia.com   (this site has a online petition you can sign and include comments to our representatives, governor, and delegates. It also has lots of information about how WV is the only state that passed a broadband bill that will most likely fail cause of its ridiculous mis-guided measures and misuse of funds.)

www.dslreports.com   (this site has much information about the happenings in broadband, and a couple handy free tools for checking your DSL speed.)


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