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In rural areas where cellphone service is scarce, a landline is a lifeline

"It could be the difference between life and death."
Century Link Phone Line Buckingham County 6.jpg
Posted at 5:24 AM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 05:34:54-05

BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. -- The rolling hills, quiet breeze and lack of traffic make Buckingham County a personal paradise for 64-year-old Shelby Taylor.

“I love the peace and quiet," said Taylor. “I love not having my neighbor two feet from me."

She's lived on her family farm her entire life, and can't picture herself anywhere else. The only thing missing: a reliable, landline phone service.

"Every time you pick it up, you wonder if it's going to work today or no," Taylor explained.

Since 2017, the Buckingham native has been reporting connection issues to Century Link.

"It has basically gotten worse over the years," she said.

In an area where cell phone signal is sparse, the landline is a lifeline.

"We have a lot of elderly people on fixed incomes that may not have a cellphone, and suppose there was a medical emergency," said Taylor. "They have no other choice. It could be the difference between life and death."

Century Link Phone Line Buckingham County 2.jpg
Several broken telephone line pedestals with exposed wires can be found around Buckingham County

Buckingham County Supervisor Jordan Miles has spent years contacting Century Link himself trying to get his constituents reliable phone service.

"It grew into almost daily correspondence, and that's what it is now because of the number of intermittent outages," Miles explained.

The county leader also works for Piedmont Senior Resources, where calling the elderly is part of his daily job.

"When they don't have a working telephone, we can't get hold to them," he noted. "We don't know how they're doing. We don't know if they're living or not sometimes."

Miles thinks the problem boils down to outdated and broken infrastructure.

"What kind of company, private or public, would be proud to own something like this?," asked Miles as he showed CBS 6 one of several telephone pedestals that has exposed wires and a broken cover.

Century Link Phone Line Buckingham County 1.jpg
Several broken telephone line pedestals with exposed wires can be found around Buckingham County

"It’s like third world!," Miles exclaimed. "It’s pretty doggone pathetic."

CBS 6 reached out to Century Link about the broken pedestals and the outages that have continued since our first Problem Solvers Investigation in October.

We received a statement that reads:

"We understand the urgency of improving services. If a customer experiences an issue or sees a damaged telephone pole, wire, cable or pedestal, it’s critical they contact us as quickly as possible, either online or with a call. We are addressing service issues—our proactive copper rehab program is already in place and we are working to repair pedestals, bonding, and grounding work as needed."

Miles has even contacted the State Corporation Commission about the problem.

In December, he received a letter from the Public Utility Division, stating they were investigating Century Link’s service complaints in Buckingham County, as well as Rappahannock County. The letter also noted Century Link had filed a petition to transfer its service in Buckingham, and several other counties, to a new company called Connect Holdings.

Century Link Phone Line Buckingham County 3.jpg
Several broken telephone line pedestals with exposed wires can be found around Buckingham County

CBS 6 asked Century Link for more information about the proposed merger, and the company sent the following statement:

"While we filed a petition with the State Corporation Commission in November to transfer services to Connect Holding (also known as Brightspeed), it’s still under review. During this time we are continuing to operate as usual and working hard to serve our customers. We anticipate the transaction will close in the second half of 2022 and that local customers within this soon-to-be-acquired market will benefit as Brightspeed pursues its own fiber deployment plans."

It could take months for the State Corporation Commission to approve the transfer, but regardless of their decision, Miles believes rural Virginians should see the same treatment and investment as more urban parts of the Commonwealth.

“I don't want them to forget about little Buckingham County," said Miles. "We don't have a ton of people here, but the people we have here deserve a working telephone.”

Meanwhile, Shelby Taylor says she loves her way of life in the country, and wouldn't trade it — even with the phone line issues.

“I'm not going to have everything that the city has, and I don't expect that," said Taylor. "But basic phone line and internet, which is so important now to everybody's way of life, I would like to have those two things. Maybe a nobody like me can make them listen."

Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., the State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing where residents are able to state their personal experiences with Century Link as part of a hearing required for the company to transfer service to Connect Holdings.

Thursday morning, the Commission will hold another special meeting where Century Link leaders will explain their desire for the transfer.

Watch for Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Click here for more of our investigations or to submit a tip to the Problem Solvers.

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