It’s 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon and a potential customer at an Indian Valley business is trying to order a product. The Internet goes down once again or slows to a near halt. The business loses the sale. The customer and business are frustrated. It’s another day of not doing business in Indian Valley.
The hypothetical description above has become commonplace amongst Internet users in Indian Valley. Mention the Internet slow down on social media and you’ll get a barrage of comments of the perceived lack of concern of Internet providers. Frontier Communications leads the way in complaints.
Frequent outages and slowed Internet speeds are hampering small business, the independent contractor and personal communications.
Slow Internet takes place at all times of the business day and sometimes lasts for several hours.
Calls to Frontier Communication usually yield the same response: “We’re working on the lines. We don’t know when that will be completed.” However, customers are frustrated.
“I have a daily struggle with Frontier. I lose Internet at work daily. All my techs use their phones to look at their schedule. When it goes down we have no way of knowing where to go next,” said Nikki Smalley. She’s had to travel to Chester from her home in Greenville to reboot the phone system at night.
In Crescent Mills, Ted Stout, an IT guy himself, expresses similar frustrations. He moved to Crescent Mills over two years ago and telecommutes out of his home, but some days the lack of consistent Internet makes it nearly impossible. Stout has what’s called triple redundancy. He has Frontier as his main access to the Internet, but he also tries for a personal hot spot and the spotty satellite coverage. Sometimes all three are down.
“The situation has gotten worse. After 5 p.m., the connection is degraded. Testing the connection never has the connection above a C grade,” said Stout.
That’s problematic. The average user in Indian Valley is paying for a high speed Internet connection — an A grade — but is receiving C grade service.
“It’s as if you’re making a payment with the understanding that you’re going to be driving a Ferrari, but in reality the only thing you get to drive is an old Yugo,” said IT professional Julian Wells.
Supervisor Kevin Goss has been grateful that Frontier partnered with the Highway 89 Rehabilitation project — and that the cables are now under the street, but said, “We’re still waiting for better connectivity, better service.” He’s not holding his breath and has been reading online about issues in other parts of rural America where Frontier received grants for work that hasn’t been completed.
Back in spring 2017 there were two weeks straight where the Internet signal was so weak that it came nearly to a halt. Calls to Frontier yielded a comical, but frustrating response. Rodents were gnawing on cables above Westwood.
In recent weeks however, rodents are not the issue, but the problem still exists and it affects the livelihood of local residents.
“I am an independent journalist with income coming entirely from beyond Plumas County. My business is extremely dependent on an Internet connection. When it’s down, I’m down,” said Jane Braxton Little.
As bucolic a setting as Indian Valley is, and as anti-technology as some residents may be, reality in the 21st century means that the Internet is a necessity. Everything one requires in contemporary life shares some aspect of that living online. From shopping to unemployment insurance, taxes and DMV paperwork, all use online communication as the main method of contact with customers.
Centella Tucker of Evergreen Market concurs. When the Internet goes down, so does the ability for Evergreen to process both credit card payments and EBT card purchases. If customers are making the bulk of their purchases on EBT cards, they then have to wait for the Internet to comeback online.
Plumas Unified School District has been working for two years to implement a program used in other districts with better Internet access called the One to One program. The idea is for every student to have an Internet-connected electronic device to utilize for homework and reading material. The school day ends before 4 p.m. in Indian Valley. Homework in the evening means that students have to use the web at times when Internet speeds are routinely degraded. The Internet has also been known to slow down or come to a halt in the middle of the school day, too.
That’s especially problematic, say IT professionals. In 2015, Frontier Communications was awarded $1.3 million by the FCC to bridge the “digital divide” between rural and urban America by bringing high speed broadband to rural areas. One of the first priorities was educational facilities — which is why the best spot for Internet service in Indian Valley can be the Greenville High School campus — not that speeds there are much faster.
Frontier Communications accepted the grant, but two years later much of rural America served by Frontier is not experiencing high speed Internet. It’s not the only grant the telecommunications company has received. Frontier has accepted grants in Wisconsin, New York and West Virginia among other places.
In late 2015, Frontier had to settle a lawsuit with West Virginia over broadband that was never delivered.
Some Frontier customers in Indian Valley attempt work-arounds. To watch a movie on Netflix, for example, some customers make sure all phones and laptops in a given location are turned off so that a movie can play uninterrupted, but even that is barely successful.
There are many plans in the works for Plumas County to boost its economic profile in the state, which largely centers on telecommuting and using the Internet as a base of operations.
Attempts to reach Frontier for comment on this story were unsuccessful.