In the June 6 Cavendish Update, we reported the frustration many people in town were experiencing with their Internet service, particularly TDS. While problems continue, and in some cases are worse, there is improvement for those who can use VTel’s emerging service.
VTel’s full wireless system will not be in place until the summer of 2015, but fortunately some locals are benefiting from what’s now available and have made the switch. According to VTel’s Lead Wireless Specialist, Andrea Spaans, there is no guarantee that the service when implemented will cover 100% of Cavendish. However if the service is available where you live, it should be good. There are four towers that will impact our area (one in Ludlow (live next summer), one in Cavendish (live this winter), one in Windsor (connecting commercial traffic next month) and one in South Reading (live next summer) that all have different launch dates. Whether VTel’s system will work for you now or in the future can only be determined by calling them 875-7711 and speaking to a representative.
At Monday’s Select Board meeting, town manager Rich Svec informed the board that the new TDS field services representative for Vermont, stated that TDS was very aware that the current system in Cavendish is maxed out, yet upgrades or changes are not planned for 2015. A local engineer, who works with this technology, and was present at Monday night’s meeting, was able to further elaborate on this situation.
Basically, a system constructed several years ago is no longer adequate to handle the same number of customers today, due to increased customer bandwidth usage. [More people are video streaming, sending pictures etc.] Building a new fiber cable from Cavendish to the world, becomes an extremely expensive operation due to the distances involved and the make ready work required in other operating companies.
With cell service and other local Internet providers (Comcast and VTel) coming into the area, TDS’s customer base-including land line and Internet- has been significantly reduced. High costs combined with loss of market share is not much of an incentive for TDS to spend the millions needed to meet today’s standards, let alone where the Internet will be five years from now.
Currently, the Federal Communications Commission’s benchmark for broadband services is a download speed of 4 Mbps and an upload speed of 1 Mbps. These figures will often be represented as 4/1. TDS advertises a 5 Mbps service as well as a 15 /4 “Turbo speed.” Recent speed tests in various parts of town are showing speeds of 1/.47 for 5Mbps service and 4.62/.46 for Turbo speed. Check your speed by going to http://speedtest.tds.net It will most likely vary throughout the day depending on your location and users on-line.
According to Susan Paruch of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA), VTA has no regulatory control over Internet providers as it is unregulated at the federal level. However, VTA is willing to call TDS on our behalf recognizing there is no requirement for TDS to act. Paruch stated that it’s important for people to call them as the more information they have, the better the case they can make. The number to call is 1-800-622-4496.
VTA was a good source for information about some of the rumors circulating in town.
• Is VTel making it difficult for TDS to expand their services by locking up bandwidth or high fiber optics? No, VTel uses different technology.
• Is VTel going to buy out TDS? Unlikely as the market share isn’t of sufficient size to be of interest.
• Could TDS abandon the area? At this time land lines are still a regulated service. TDS is the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) for our area as they provide land line coverage. Consequently, before TDS could leave there would be a variety of hearings and a land line provider would either already be in place or would be purchasing TDS. Could this change if land lines become deregulated? Of course.
The issues we’re experiencing are not unique for small towns in VT. In August, VT Public Radio aired a story about The Department of Public Service’s draft 10 year plan for the future of telecommunications in Vermont. It is worth the time to read/listen to this article as it shows the difficulties small companies like TDS are facing-in 2011 alone VT ILECs lost $39 million- while acknowledging the problems the lack of broadband creates for VT.
One of the fortunate things we do have with TDS is the repair team. Not only do they live locally, but they are working countless hours trying to keep an antiquated system operational. Yes, this is a very frustrating situation, but they are not the problem so please don’t take it out on them.
The local engineer at Monday night’s select board meeting discussed some interim solutions that TDS could do that would improve the situation. Whether TDS would consider this is an unknown. However, there are some things you can do:
• TDS users with internet issues should outline them in an e-mail and send immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org You can also call the town office at 226-7292 and provide similar information. Svec is sending a letter to TDS on Friday, Sept. 12 and would like to include as much information about the problem as possible.
• Conduct speed tests at various times to better understand how the Internet is working at your house. This does several things-TDS and VTA need specifics and you’ll have a comparison measure if you switch Internet providers.
• Call VTA 1-800-622-4496 and register your concerns. Again, the more people that contact them, the stronger the case they can make when they talk to TDS.
• Attend the October Select Board meeting where it is expected that the TDS representative will be in attendance to answer questions and to explain how they will be addressing these concerns.
While this article has discussed VTel and TDS, there is a third major Internet provider in Cavendish, Comcast. We have yet to connect with someone at Comcast that can provide us with the information we’re looking for.
Finally, it’s important to take the poor connectivity complaints of visiting friends and family seriously. It’s easy to dismiss this by saying, “what do you expect it’s a rural area.” However, according to area realtors, poor Internet is a contributing factor as to why people do not move here. If we want a strong year round residential community and economy, a reliable broadband network is essential.