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INVESTIGATION: Phone company accused of neglecting rural customers

INVESTIGATION: Phone company accused of neglecting rural customers


MOST OF US THINK OF LANDLINES AS A THING OF THE PAST BUT THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY IN RURAL AREAS, THAT STILL RELY ON LANDLINES TO REACH EMERGENCY SERVICES. VIEWERS IN SCOTT COUNTY, VIRIGNIA REACHED OUT TO NEWS CHANNEL 11 ABOUT ISSUES WITH CENTURYLINK… SAYING THEIR PHONE WOULD GO OUT FOR HOURS, DAYS OR EVEN WEEKS —ISSUES THEY SAY CENTURYLINK FAILED TO ADDRESS, DESPITE YEARS OF COMPLAINTS. NEWS CHANNEL 11’S JACKIE DEFUSCO TALKED TO THOSE NEIGHBORS AND FOUND OUT THIS MAY BE PART OF A BIGGER PROBLEM. YEAH JOSH, SARA WE SHOULD NOTE–CENTURYLI NK DECLINED OUR REQUESTS FOR AN ON-CAMERA INTERVIEW AND TO RELEASE A DETAILED HISTORY OF OUTAGES IN SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA. A SPOKESPERSON SAID IN A STATEMENT THAT THE COMPANY IS CONTINUALLY INVESTING IN AND UPGRADING ITS OPERATIONS IN THE REGION. BUT EXPERTS SAY THIS PROBLEM GOES BEYOND THAT RURAL COMMUNITY THAT CHANGES TO REGULATORY OVERSIGHT–IN STATES LIKE VIRGINIA–ARE LEAVING THE MOST VULNERBALE CUSTOMERS AT RISK NATIONWIDE FOR PEOPLE LIVING IN RURAL COMMUNITIES. WITH LITTLE TO NO CELL SERVICE… THEIR LANDLINE IS THEIR LIFELINE. SOT: “IT COULD BE A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION AND YOU WOULD HAVE NO WAY OF CONTACTING ANYBODY.” CAROL ALLEY KNOWS THIS FEAR FIRST HAND. SOT: “THE SITTER FOUND HER THE DAY THAT SHE FELL, WHICH HAPPENED TO BE HER BIRTHDAY.” JUNE 5TH, 2018–HER MOTHER’S 92ND BIRTHDAY. “I GOT DOWN THERE AND THE AMBULANCE WAS SITTING IN MOTHER’S DRIVEWAY.” FERNE GRIMM–A WIDOWED GATE CITY, VIRGINIA WOMAN KNOWN FOR HER FAITH AND SPUNK. WAS FOUND SITTING IN THE HALL–BLOOD SPILLING FROM HER FOREHEAD. “SHE WENT TO THE PHONE IN THE LIVING ROOM, THERE WAS BLOOD THERE. SHE WENT TO THE PHONE IN HER BEDROOM, THERE WAS BLOOD THERE.” IN NEED OF HELP BUT FAMILY MEMBERS SAY HER LANDLINE WAS OUT OF SERVICE “THE BATHROOM LOOKED LIKE A WAR ZONE.” ALLEY SAYS IT HAD BEEN OUT FOR SIX DAYS. AND THAT SAY CENTURYLINK–THE VOICE SERVICE PROVIDER IN THE AREA–MISSED TWO APPOINTMENTS TO FIX THE PHONE. “JUST ABOUT EVERYONE IN THE FAMILY CALLED TRYING TO GET THEM TO COME AND FIX MOTHER’S PHONE AND NO RESULTS.” FAMILY SAYS GRIMM LATER DIED FROM COMPLICATIONS OF THE FALL. WANDA SKEEN AND HER FAMILY–JUST DOWN THE ROAD–ARE HAVING SIMILAR PROBLEMS WITH CENTURYLINK’S SERVICE. SHE SAYS THE PHONE GOES OUT EVERYTIME IT RAINS …THERE’S NO DIAL TONE FOR HOURS, SOMETIMES DAYS OR EVEN WEEKS. OTHER TIMES–THERE’S STATIC, HUMMING OR CROSSTALK. NEIGHBORS IN UPPER POSSUM CREEK SAY THEY’VE BEEN COMPLAINING FOR YEARS ABOUT SLOW AND INCOMPLETE MAINTENANCE BY CENTURYLINK TECHNICIANS. “I HAVE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT SOMETHING CAN HAPPEN AND I WANT TO TAKE CARE OF IT BEFORE IT HAPPENS” BUT IF YOU LIVE IN A STATE LIKE VIRGINIA, EXPERTS SAY THERE’S VERY LITTLE YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. “IF YOU’RE IN THAT STATE WHERE REGULATORS IN MY MIND HAVE PREMATURELY RELIED ON COMPETITION TO PROTECT CONSUMERS, YOU’RE OUT OF LUCK.” THAT’S SUSAN BALDWIN–A TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY EXPERT. …WHO HAS TESTIFIED IN REGULATORY PROCEEDINGS ACROSS THE COUNTRY …ARGUING THAT CENTURYLINK AND OTHER MAJOR VOICE SERVICE PROVIDERS “HAVE A CORPORATE STRATEGY OF ABANDONING ITS RURAL CUSTOMERS.” (P.4) “IN RURAL AREAS PHONE COMPANIES ARE NOT BOTHERING TO INVEST BECAUSE IT’S NOT PROFITABLE AND THAT’S THE THORNY PROBLEM FACING LEGISLATORS TAKING INTEREST IN THIS AND REGULATORS.” A SPOKESPERSON FOR THE VIRGINIA STATE CORPORATION COMMISSION SAYS THE CONSUMER PROTECTION AGENCY STILL RECORDS AND RELAYS COMPLAINTS ABOUT CENTURYLINK FROM VIRGINIANS. THE DIFFERENCE–NOW– THERE ARE NO RULES. HE SAYS IT’S BEEN ABOUT A DECADE SINCE THE VIRGINIA COMMISSION HAS HAD THE LEGAL AUTHORITY TO PENALIZE PHONE COMPANIES FOR FAILING TO PROVIDE QUALITY SERVICE. AND JUST THIS YEAR–HE ESTIMATES THE AGENCY HAS ESTIMATES THE AGENCY HAS RECEIVED ABOUT 600 COMPLAINTS ABOUT CENTURYLINK, THE VAST MAJORITY RELATED TO RELIABILITY OF LANDLINES. “YOU STOP AND THINK ABOUT IT AND YOU THINK I COULD GO NEXT AND IF I COULDN’T GET A HOLD OF SOMEONE THEY COULD FIND ME.” …IN AN UPPER POSSUM CREEK HOME ABOUT A HALF AN HOUR FROM EMERGENCY SERVICE AND SEVERAL MILES FROM CELL SERVICE. “A LOT OF VALUABLE TIME WAS WASTED BECAUSE THERE WAS NO PHONE CONNECTIONS.” AND FAMILY MEMBERS SAY CENTURYLINK DID NOT FULLY REPAIR THAT PHONE UNTIL AFTER THEY BURRIED THEIR MOTHER. SHE DIED NEARLY A MONTH AFTER THE ORIGINAL OUTAGE. ITS CASES LIKE THIS THAT BALDWIN BELIEVES COULD BE PREVENTED IF STATES LIKE VIRGINIA RE-REGULATE SHE POINTS OUT THERE ARE SEVERAL STATES CURRENTLY REVIEWING SERVICE QUALITY COMPLAINTS AGAINST CENTURYLINK AND SIMILAR COMPANIES. LIVE IN THE STUDIO,JACKIE DEFUSCO, NEWS CHANNEL 11, IN YOUR CORNER. . JACKIE THANKS. AGAIN, CENTURY LINK DENIED AN ON CAMERA INTERVIEW FOR THE STORY…BUT DID RELEASE A STATEMENT TO NEWS CHANNEL 11. WE’VE PLACED IT ON OUR WEBSITE WJHL DOT COM.

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