After hearing criticisms about connectivity and communications services in the area, a representative from Brightspeed discussed the company’s goals at an August 14 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Scott Strader, Supervisor of Region Operations (SRO), said his territory includes Martinsville, Henry, and Patrick counties.
Ensuring customers throughout are satisfied is “dear to my heart,” Strader said. “Hearing about lines laying on top of the ground and different things been on the ground for so long, I’m here. I would talk to anybody in this room, and I would be more than glad to help anybody here.”
Stader assured those attending the meeting that Brightspeed wants “to take care of their plan. They want to update their plan, and they have the money to do it. So, we’re looking forward to doing that, and I’d be more than glad to help in any way I can.
“Our customers matter to us at Brightspeed, and I’m going to prove that to each and every one of you,” he said.
Brandon Simmons, of the Dan River District, said he understood that when purchasing the business, Brightspeed “took over a very bad mess and bad equipment and bad lines and stuff, and now you’re trying to fix it.”
“That’s an understatement,” Strader said, adding that work began almost immediately following the acquisition and continues.
“I can’t get it done overnight, but if you bear with me and give me an opportunity, I will make it back where it needs to be. That’s my plan, that’s Brightspeed’s goal,” Strader said.
Clayton Kendrick, chairman of the Mayo River District, said Strader has been good to respond to residents’ issues. Referencing concerns from a Pole Bridge Road resident, Brightspeed “got that fixed on a Saturday, all those wires hanging on that 911 sign and all that stuff,” Kendrick said, and added, “I think some customers even got credits on their bills and stuff to help out there.”
Denise Stirewalt, of the Peter’s Creek District, asked Strader to inform Brightspeed’s corporate office about the importance of landline service in the county, “because so many do not have cell service, and I would hate for somebody to lose their life because they couldn’t call 911.”
Equating Brightspeed’s purchase of the former CenturyLink system to a landfill, Doug Perry, of the Smith River District, wondered if it would be cheaper to start from scratch “instead of trying to patch stuff that’s been in the ground since 1962, I would imagine.
“Is there any kind of maybe schedule or are you just reacting? Do you have a plan for updating the whole county because it needs it, or are you just in reaction mode,” Perry said.
Strader said Brightspeed is currently in reaction mode while working to determine limitations/issues with the current system.
“We just took it in October, so almost November of last year. We haven’t been a year yet. We’ve done a lot, and it’s going to take a while, but we are in reaction mode right now,” Strader said.
Several residents spoke about their phone and internet issues.
Before becoming a resident of the county, Lisa Allen said she had vacationed here for about 20 years.
“My parents moved here and built a home in 2002. When the pandemic began, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to build a home on the land they had given me 20 years prior. So, I contacted several builders, and we built a home,” she said.
Allen received the certificate of occupancy on Aug. 1, 2021, and immediately called CenturyLink, and made an appointment for them to come out to install a phone and internet service.
The company visited her property and measured the distance of her home from her parent’s home, and concluded it was 1,400 feet—which was against its rule of 1,000 feet.
“They had emailed me the contract for installation, and I had signed it and returned the email and I have the fine print from that. They said, ‘In limited circumstances, the construction charges may exceed these amounts for reasons like extensive work is required, or your premises are a significant distance from our network. Before starting work, we will access the property, review charges with you for approval, and we may cancel with no further obligation.’ And that’s exactly what CenturyLink did,” she said.
Allen said she built a brand-new home in her favorite place in the world and could not get a phone or internet. During that time, she also signed up to start an online M.A. program.
“So, I lived in my home for two years and I have earned an entire master’s degree, and completed it in educational leadership, without internet at my house. There were times when the school system would cancel school due to snow, and I wouldn’t even get the automated call,” she said.
Tom Bishop discussed a neighbor’s telephone line.
“From the box near the street, there’s an orange wire laying on top of the ground running up to this person’s house. It’s been there for several weeks, so apparently there’s no urgency to put that underground,” he said.
Bishop said when he mows the grass, he has to be careful not to mow over the cord.
“I don’t know what’s going on. I think it’s a long time that they should have put that cable in the ground,” he said.
Jamie Clark said while he does not have Brightspeed, his mother does.
“She has a heart pacemaker and other chronic health problems. During the last six weeks, she has had to deal with her telephone being out of service over 10 times. Sometimes the phone will be out for a few hours, other times several days,” he said.
Clark said he’s reported these outages, and once his mother had to wait more than a week for a restoration of her service. When the technician arrived at her house, Clark told him he had already checked for a dial tone at the box at her house and there was no dial tone coming into the house.
“He said that the problem was inside of her house with a wiring issue, and I assured him that no one had touched her phone wiring in years. So, he said that it was a problem inside of her phone and that she needed a new phone. So, my mother went and purchased a new phone. Guess what, no phone service,” he said.
When his mother’s service was restored, she talked to her friends who experienced an outage during the same time.
Like others, Clark said his mother’s pacemaker is monitored daily by a doctor. It has the ability to send a Bluetooth signal to a device in a phone that sends information about her heart to the doctor’s office. Another option is for the device to use a cellphone to send this information to the doctor.
“We all know that there are lots of places in Patrick County that have no cellphone service, so this option is not available to a large number of county residents that have pacemakers or other implanted medical devices,” he said.
Clark said county residents have access to life-saving tools like Life-Alert, home burglary alarm systems, and fire alarms with smoke detectors.
“All of these systems were designed to save life and property. However, they are designed to use a home telephone line to summon help when an emergency arises. Without a working telephone system, these systems are useless,” he said.
As a former paramedic, Clark answered a call for help one Sunday morning at 7 a.m. for a woman who fell on her bathroom floor at 11:30 p.m. the night before. Clark said the woman laid on the floor all night in pain because she didn’t want to call until daylight because she knew that the squad was all volunteers and didn’t want to bother them while they were sleeping.
“She had a working phone line that night, just imagine if she didn’t. When you live alone, your telephone is literally your lifeline,” he said.
Clark said his wife was unable to connect to her work computer because the speed was so slow and unreliable. After he went 21 days without internet service, he switched to Comcast.
“Just drive down Route 8 and count the number of trees that have fallen over on the phone lines or how many phone pedestals are uncovered or laying on their sides across the county,” he said.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved the meeting minutes.
*Approved the bills, claims, and appropriations.
*Appointed Dayna Bobbitt to the Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) Board.
*Authorized counsel to settle for the amount discussed for the corporation tax litigation.
*Heard an introduction from the new Economic Development Director Patrick Cooper.
* Heard an introduction from the new shared grant writer Charles Drake.
*Approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2023-2024 budget for Patrick County Schools.
*Approved allowing Department of Social Services (DSS) Director Joan Rogers to hire a human services aide.
*Heard the year-end report from Treasurer Sandra Stone.
*Approved a resolution setting the Personal Property Tax Rebate (PPTR) at 30.5.
*Approved an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) request for funds to use for repairs for the Patrick County Child Advocacy Center (CAC).
*Approved a resolution for the Virginia Juvenile Community Crime Control Act from the ANCHOR Commission.
*Heard an update from P&HCC President Dr. Greg Hodges.
*Heard the county administrator’s report.
*Heard the supervisors’ reports.
*Approved a contract with Hill Studio for professional services relating to a possible revitalization of properties in Stuart. It will be paid for by a $40,000 Industrial Revitalizaion Fund (IRF) Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) grant for Hill to do evaluations, studies, and potential artist renderings of improvements the county could see.