Residents complain about DSL speed, reliability

CHARLES TOWN – Efforts by Frontier Communications to improve Jefferson County’s broadband network should begin bearing fruit in the next few weeks, said the company’s director of operations for eastern West Virginia.

[cleeng_content id="872768249" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Speaking to about 30 Frontier customers during a public hearing hearing convened last week by the County Commission to discuss complaints about the quality of DSL connections in Jefferson County, Paul Espinosa said Frontier will soon connect subscribers to a high-capacity fiber optic network called the ROADM network, which will limit the impact of outages to its system.

“What that network will do is increase diversity,” Espinosa said. “Many of those outages that we experienced earlier this summer would not have occurred had this network been complete.

“Right now if you have a fiber cut in Jefferson County, significant parts of Jefferson County are impacted by that. Once we get that data onto this fiber optic ring network, if you have a fiber optic cut in an area of the county … the majority of customers in the county would not be affected by that,” he said.

Paul Espinosa

Paul Espinosa

Espinosa pointed out that Frontier had taken over much of their DSL network from Verizon only three years ago, and that they have pledged to invest $300 million to improve networks throughout the state. He said that when they took over Verizon’s network, only 60 percent of customers were offered DSL, but now Frontier offers the service to 94 percent of its customers.

Espinosa said diverting local DSL traffic to the ROADM network would increase speeds throughout the local area.

“We expect here in the next several weeks to a month to have that work complete,” he said.

Espinosa pointed out that Frontier had taken over much of their DSL network from Verizon only three years ago, and that they have pledged to invest $300 million to improve networks throughout the state. He said that when they took over Verizon’s network, only 60 percent of customers were offered DSL, but now Frontier offers the service to 94 percent of its customers.

“We acknowledge that there have been issues,” Espinosa said in an interview Monday, “but I think we have outlined the investments that we have made and are making to ensure that we are providing the reliability that customers fairly expect.”

“We certainly realize that broadband is very critical to our community, and we do take that responsibility seriously,” he said.

At last week’s hearing, residents voiced a number of complaints about their service, but focused particularly on the speed and reliability of their internet connections. Representatives from Comcast were also present at the hearing.

Meredith Wait, president of the Shepherdstown Business Association and owner of Dickinson and Wait Craft Gallery, said that disruptions in service have led to business losses and missed opportunities.

“Small businesses in Shepherdstown rely on this for our credit cards, for our business every single hour of every single day,” she said. “[Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s office has] talked to the small businesses in Shepherdstown and throughout the state of West Virginia about doing more Internet business, and we can’t because we can’t rely on the service.”

Wait said a major service disruption that struck the county in early July caused several Shepherdstown businesses to lose sales. “There was a tremendous amount of money lost,” she said.

Espinosa said that outage was caused by the attempted theft of a fiber optic line in Berkeley County, which had severed one of the regional network’s only central lines of communication to external networks. “Unfortunately, no network is immune to issues such as fiber cuts,” he said.

Blue Ridge resident Joe Thompson told commissioners that the FCC has established a standard for broadband, that users should be able to download data at a minimum speed of 4 megabits per second and to upload data at 1 megabit per second.

Three Frontier customers presented evidence that DSL service may be operating below that threshold.

John Maxey, who runs an internet technology business based in Jefferson County, called attention to the Region 9 Broadband Study.

The study, which was conducted last year and tested the Internet speed of 614 residents living in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties, found that 90 percent of those using DSL were receiving download speeds lower than the FCC’s minimum standard for broadband. For upload speeds, 85 percent of those surveyed who were using DSL received less than the minimum standard.

Twenty percent of those with cable internet also experienced speeds lower than the FCC minimum standard, according to the survey.

The sample size of the survey suggests a 95 percent rate of certainty that the survey’s results are within 4 percent of the actual population of customers experiencing those speeds, assuming that the sample was drawn at random.

Espinosa said he had not reviewed the report in detail, but argued that there is reason to believe that the survey might have disproportionately attracted individuals who are experiencing poor Internet service.

“I think there are some reasonable questions you can ask about the validity of that data,” he said.

“To me, it looked like some of the solicitation to encourage people to participate almost suggested that there was a problem,” he added. “If they are having problems with their internet, I think they are more likely to respond to that.”

News stories published at the time to announce the availability of the survey did reference complaints about broadband service in the Eastern Panhandle.

Espinosa said other factors could have interfered with the results as well, such as an individual taking the speed test on a laptop connected to a wireless router.

He claims that 76 percent of customers “are served from a fiber-fed switch that offers at least a 6 megabit service.”

“That broadband that we are deploying actually does meet the definition for broadband and actually exceeds it,” he said.

Frontier customer Tish Appignani presented data compiled by her husband Peter over a year’s time that shows they received, on average, download speeds of 3.44 megabits per second and upload speeds of 0.12 megabits per second – both well below the FCC minimum standard.

The data was not collected at regular, pre-scheduled times, however, meaning that it could be subject to sampling bias.

Scott Tsukuda, director of operations at the Freshwater Institute and a rental manager with Tsukuda Enterprises, said that he has installed commercial software to monitor the reliability of his business’s Internet connection. Over the past year he he said he has experienced 171 outages with three days and seven hours of total downtime.

Tsukuda said his business involves networking with a separate unit at a remote location, which cannot do work during these outages.

“When our link goes down, they’re shut down,” he said. “They’ve threatened actually to leave our facility because our Internet connection is so unreliable. They can’t get work done.”

During the hearing, Espinosa acknowledged that DSL speeds in less densely populated areas of the county might be below federal minimum broadband requirements. He said that slow service in rural areas was likely to continue because the cost of extending faster service to such areas is prohibitive.

“Particularly in the rural areas, that is going to continue to be a challenge going forward, he said.” The technology that allowed Frontier to extend out into some of the rural markets was [copper lines]. The economics of building fiber out to some of these more remote sites, because of the lack of density … that is problematic not only for Frontier but for other providers.”

John Reisenweber, executive director of the Economic Development Authority, said that reliable broadband is a key asset for economic development.

“Obviously, having reliable broadband in the county is critical to the business community,” he said. “I know that Frontier knows that.”

“It is more than just a tool. In today’s world and today’s economy, it is the tool,” he said.

Reisenweber said that large businesses such as American Public University System, who can afford high-capacity fiber optic connections, had been very successful establishing internet-based businesses in the local area.

“We do have companies in this area that do have very reliable fiber,” he said. “It can be done here. So we need to do it.”

 

 

Want to test your speed?

 

Frontier offers a speed test at speedtest.frontier.com. An independent speed test can be found at dslreports.com/speedtest. For your connection to meet federal broadband standards, you should be able to download at 4 megabits per second, and to upload at 1 megabit/second. You should not take the test on a computer connected to the Internet through a wireless connection, as this can make your connection seem slower than it really is.[/cleeng_content]

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