ROMNEY, W.Va. — Numerous West Virginia citizens aired their frustrations with phone and internet service during a town hall meeting Friday hosted by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
Residents complained of dropped calls, dead spots and poor connectivity that has been going on for years. Many said the poor service impacts the ability to make 911 and other emergency calls.
Manchin (D-W.Va.) conducted the meeting at the Hampshire County Courthouse along with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission.
A total of $4.5 billion will soon be made available through the FCC’s Connect America Fund Phase II program. That funding is supposed to provide universal support for 4G LTE service based on coverage maps and data provided by mobile carriers.
However, Manchin, Rosenworcel and a growing number of supporters are taking issue with the FCC service maps, which they say are an inaccurate depiction of connectivity.
“Carriers are saying we are covered and we are not and they don’t want competition,” Manchin said.
Manchin has been receiving growing support for his effort to challenge, and possibly amend, the process being used to determine which rural areas in the country will receive improved service through the program.
He said he’d like to see a “terrain offset factor so places like West Virginia that are the hardest and most expensive to serve will have a fair shot at funding.”
Rosenworcel has been supportive, according to Manchin.
“I know how beautiful these hills are but also know how hard they are to serve with infrastructure,” Rosenworcel said. “If you don’t have access to modern communication you don’t have a fair shot at 21st century success. We have to figure out how to get connectivity to more places.
“Our goal is to get better data,” she said. “The maps that we are seeing in Washington, D.C., about where service was just didn’t reflect the realities on the ground. There is only one member of Congress who actively choose to challenge the FCC’s maps and he is right here today.”
Manchin said the effort to improve connectivity in rural West Virginia began to get traction in 2015 when then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler attended an event in Tucker County that Manchin also attended.
“He came over and we were looking at the (FCC) maps and they were showing we were covered,” Manchin said. “I asked him to call his office to see if he had any messages. He couldn’t get out. I said, ‘Tom look at the map. It says we’re covered and we are not.’
“That started the ball rolling,” Manchin said. “This is what we’ve been fighting. We want you to get involved. This has to be fixed.”
Many in attendance aired frustration with Frontier Communications, a carrier that serves much of the region.
“The cellular service just driving hear from Capon Bridge, I got cut off twice,” said Jeremy Diamo of Capon Bridge. “Frontier, what they are doing is troubling. ... We are not getting what we are paying for.”
Diamo said the lack of reliable service “interferes with ability to provide for my family.”
“I know about the poor service from Frontier,” Manchin said. “Back in the day they were the only game in town. It was that or nothing. So that is what happened they promised all these things. I think they bit off more than they could chew financially. They were a small player and niche player. They have not made the investments. I don’t think they have the capital to do what needs to be done.”
Another citizen identified herself as a teacher.
“I taught in schools and churches and spoke to administrators and parents,” she said. “They all say the same thing; they are being asked to use technology we don’t have. It is like being in a Third World country.”
Another citizen said he needed the internet for work, “but when my internet is out I can’t provide for my family.”
Manchin and Rosenworcel urged citizens to help by reporting their internet speeds to the FCC.
Documents circulated through the audience explained how to submit the information by downloading the free FCC speed test app.
“We didn’t know we could take a speed test,” Manchin said. “We didn’t know until Jessica (Rosenworcel) got involved. If we don’t get involved there will be no justice.”
A citizen said the best time to test devices is between 5 and 7 p.m. when children are home from school and service usage goes up.
To submit mobile, wireless and wired coverage test results in the area, take the West Virginia Internet Speed Test from the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council. For more information, call Manchin’s office at 202-224-3954.
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.