Rural Chesapeake residents want cable, internet access [The Virginian-Pilot]
(Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 08--CHESAPEAKE -- Minutes from the expressways that bisect this city of 228,000 there is a cluster of homes with big gardens and towering shade trees, surrounded by lush fields of corn and soybeans.
But residents of Land of Promise Road, a rural enclave less than a mile from Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, say they are being left behind in an era of near-instant communication.
Unable to get high-speed Internet or cable TV or reliable phone service, about a dozen residents have banded together to press local communications companies and the city government to come to their aid.
"It's like living in the Dark Ages," said Debbie Conboy, who operates a farm with her husband, Mark, and is leading the drive. "You can't run a business these days, or do other things most people take for granted, without the Internet. It's just very frustrating."
So far, they have made little headway.
Officials at Cox Communications and Verizon have told the residents their neighborhood is out of their service areas and that laying cable and other new equipment there would be too costly.
Cox told the residents they would have to bear the cost, estimated at $83,000 for the neighborhood, payable up front. That would not include hook-up fees. The residents say they can't afford it.
The city says it has no authority to order the companies to relent.
On a balmy evening last week, the residents gathered on lawn chairs to plot strategy and to share their stories, interrupted occasionally by the screech of F/A-18 Hornets streaking above their treetops.
"When we moved here 15 years ago, we didn't need a computer," said Janet Tenerowicz, whose husband, Joe, works for a defense contractor. Now that they have one, they can access the Internet only through a dial-up account, "and it's more trouble than it's worth."
When her husband needs to log on from home, she said, "he goes to McDonald's to use Wi-Fi. Either that or drive all the way to the office."
Steve Pollard operates a landscaping business and has an office in his home. Without reliable Internet, he said, "I don't even bother with email. I send my invoices through the mail."
His wife, Beth, homeschools their nine children, which she said is "a challenge" without the Internet. When their oldest daughter applied for college a year ago, she said, "We had to go to Starbucks to fill out the application."
The daughter, Erin, now a freshman at Old Dominion University, lives at home but says she feels handicapped without Internet access.
"All the professors post assignments online," she said. "Class schedules are online. You're supposed to submit assignments online. So I go to Starbucks or the library to do my homework. It's kind of a hassle."
Cellphone service also has been a problem, residents said.
Glenn Smith said his signal on Verizon is so weak he has to walk to the end of his driveway to make calls.
"I have health issues," Smith said, "and I if I can't walk outside, I can't make my phone work, and if my phone doesn't work, I die."
What spurred the residents to action, Conboy said, was an eight-day outage of landline phone service in the area earlier this summer. That came after years of repeated problems with static on the line and temporary losses of service, she said.
"When the phone went out, it was devastating to our business because we didn't have fax, we didn't have dial-up, we didn't have our credit-card terminal. We couldn't take orders," Conboy said.
The neighbors complained about Verizon's repair service, saying company representatives told them there was little they could do.
"Basically they told us, 'You're on your own,' " Conboy said.
Not so, said Laura Barnes, a Verizon area manager.
"We went out there on Aug. 16 and made repairs," she said. "Everything is good to go. What they really want is broadband service, but it's just too far out to bring them broadband."
Adding to the residents' frustration, they say, is that houses less than a mile away in either direction have cable service.
At the meeting, Janet Tenerowicz passed around a hand-drawn color-coded map of roughly a square mile, showing their small stretch of Land of Promise Road in yellow, surrounded by roads in red and blue indicating Cox service or the presence of Verizon fiber-optic cable.
"It doesn't make any sense why they are leaving us out," she said.
Cox and city officials said the company is abiding by its franchise agreement with the city, which requires the company to extend service to areas with at least 25 houses in a mile.
"They are outside our service area," said Emma Inman, Cox's director of public affairs. "We are abiding by our Chesapeake franchise agreement, which does not require us to provide service to areas of the density they have."
Cox has a similar agreement with Virginia Beach that sets a higher minimum threshold of 30 houses per mile, according to a city spokesman.
The neighbors said they plan to bring their case to the City Council later this month in hopes that city leaders will put some pressure on the companies, although they are uncertain of their prospects.
"Land of Promise Road is a beautiful place to live," Tenerowicz said. "But technology is passing us by."
Jeff Sheler, 757-222-5207, email@example.com
(c)2013 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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