Citizens complain about cable provider

By Alex Bridges

A handful of Strasburg residents told Town Council on Monday they’re disappointed with Shentel and they want more choices.

Now town leaders plan to invite Shentel representatives to meet with residents and council and hear the concerns of customers who say the company needs to improve its services.

But as some staff and council members noted at the Infrastructure Committee meeting the choice of providers and services comes down to whether companies want to spend the money.

Councilman Scott Terndrup said that officials received comments concerning the cost relative to other jurisdictions, the lack of choices for Internet providers, and whether the town has a role in this.

Council members noted that residents could help attract competition to town but town leaders’ role may be limited.

Terndrup let audience members speak about the issue. Margaret Iverson told council she contacted Comcast last year because several residents in Stony Point were “unhappy with Shentel.” Iverson recalled that even though Comcast provides service to some parts of Strasburg the company representative told her it was not cost-effective to extend them to her neighborhood.

“I’d like to see a little more competition in Shenandoah County,” Iverson said.

Shentel bundles Internet, cable television and telephone in some parts of the county but the company does not offer such a package in Strasburg, Iverson said.

“Its cost for service is not really good,” Iverson said. “I think we need some help.”

Strasburg holds a franchise agreement with Shentel in which the provider can use the town’s utility easements for its transmission lines. Town Manager Judson Rex said that Strasburg renewed the agreement in August 2010. Council and staff discussed the same issues at that time.

The non-exclusive franchise agreement allows the town to enter into deals with other service providers, Rex explained.

Councilwoman Sarah Mauck asked why Shentel pays the town to provide service. In fact, as Rex explained, under agreement between Shentel and Strasburg reached decades ago, the telecommunications company does not pay the town. Public Works Director Mark Gundersen told council the town can charge Shentel an access fee.

Mauck suggested that the town invite residents and representatives of Shentel to talk about the issue of Internet services, costs and to address concerns raised by the residents. Mauck recalled that when the town renewed the franchise agreement Shentel left some of council’s questions unanswered.

“It takes bodies and numbers to have a one-on-one with representatives of their company to take it back to their company to decide it,” Mauck said.

The councilwoman said the process may likely take time.

But if the town sets up the meeting, Mauck told the audience that people need to show up.

Mauck said Shentel continues to spend money to expand services outside the town and Shenandoah County.

“What they need to take care of is us, of this county,” Mauck said.

Councilman Donald Le Vine suggested that the town gather information and list the concerns and issues with Shentel. Le Vine added that the town should contact Shentel and ask why the company can’t offer the services that some residents have requested.

A member of the audience asked if Shentel did not agree to a forum with residents could the town invite a competitor. Mauck suggested the town invite a competitor to come to the same meeting as Shentel.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com