High speed DSL Internet access will be available in the Browns Cove area in October, CenturyLink vice president Rondi Ferguson told a crowd of about 80 people gathered at Montfair Lodge Feb. 10.
Ferguson, who oversees operations affecting CenturyLink’s 300,000 customers in Virginia—who are mainly concentrated around Charlottesville and Martinsville—told the crowd anxious to get satisfactory use of the Internet that CenturyLink has adopted a “local operating model” that puts a “renewed focus on the customer. We have an elevated focus on getting high speed everywhere.” But it is expensive to operate land-line phone systems outside of cities, she said, and expansion of service in Virginia is being prioritized. In the last 18 months, CenturyLink has added three times as much DSL access in Virginia as it had before, she said. “We’ve spent quite a bit of money in Crozet and its surrounding areas on maintenance of cables.”
It will cost $250,000 to extend cable some four miles north along Rt. 810 from its nearest connection point in White Hall, and, once installed, the new service will reach 250 customers, she said. In other words, the company is spending $1,000 per customer to install the new line. “It will get done and you have my word. It’s a commitment to the community.”
Ferguson had brought CenturyLink’s supervisor of Crozet-area operations, Randy Hudson, as well as Troy Harding and Jay Shelby from the CenturyLink store in Charlottesville to answer questions and show the degree of commitment the company has to serving its customers.
“Our rates will be a heck of a lot less than Hughes Net [the satellite Internet provider used by some in rural areas],” said Ferguson. “It’s a good package at a good price.”
CenturyLink’s DSL service now ends in White Hall and some people at the meeting complained about poor service from the switch there. Response speeds decline with greater distance from the switch, she explained, because of resistance in the cable. A switch can provide service within a three-mile radius, but at the three-mile edge, speeds are not as good as they are nearer to the actual location of the switch. The switch serving Browns Cove will be on Fox Mountain Road, not far from Montfair.
“Three meg speed is usually satisfactory for most needs,” Ferguson said, but some residents said their work requires them to download relatively large files and they wanted faster speeds. At distances beyond 24,000 feet from the switch a booster may be used, she said. “We’re doing the best that is available on the market.” She acknowledged that there have been problems with intermittent signal strength from the White Hall switch.
“The technology you are asking for is still in the labs. We are working on this every day. Comcast is not out here for a reason,” said Ferguson, who said she also hears about wanting fast Internet speeds from her daughter, too.
“You are sparsely populated and typically we don’t do it in an area with so few customers. But we do look at growth.”
CenturyLink also has to consider competition from wireless systems when making its investments, Hudson said. “The world is going wireless,” he asserted. “Not out here it ain’t,” retorted someone in the room, referring to the problem of getting cell telephone signals in the mountain topography around Browns Cove.
“We have some of our best technicians in Crozet,” said Hudson, “and they take it home as an issue.”
“We’re local,” added Ferguson. “We’re here and we’re glad to bring high-speed to Browns Cove. For us, a thousand customers matter. 250 customers matter.”
Ralph Mann, who works for Blue Ridge InternetWorks, a Charlottesville service that has been installing fiber optic cable around the city for the past two years, had been invited to the meeting to comment on service issues.
“Other technologies are coming, but they are much further out than October,” he told the crowd. “It all rides on CenturyLink networks. I would take to heart what you’ve heard tonight. These folks sound like they really care. It does cost a lot of money to do this. For the next 10 years, if you can get it, it will be great.”
He said satellite services can seem slow because of the speed of light limit. “It takes 2 seconds each way to the satellite. DSL is so much more reliable than satellite. It’s perfect for this application.” He predicted that it will be 15 years before fiber optic cables are installed in western Albemarle, but once it’s available, capacities up to thousands of megabits per second will be possible.
“It’s phenomenal that CenturyLink is willing to come here for 250 people. It’s a big gesture from them,” Mann said. He was pessimistic that wireless companies would be willing to install towers to serve the area. Those decisions are driven by passing traffic counts and call volume data, he said.
Brian Fovel related how the White Hall Ruritans had investigated the possibility of putting up a flag pole tower at the community center and then selling Internet service. “You’d need a couple of thousand people as customers. The economics just aren’t there.”
White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek, who had been listening, advised people not to remove their conventional landline telephones from their homes in order to have service when the power fails.