July 4, 2008

Hang-Ups Over Service Leave Residents Without Phones

By Dave Forster, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jul. 4--SUFFOLK -- About 10 months after the first of them moved in, the people of Remington Park still are waiting for a technological wonder that has done so much to bring people closer.

Not the Internet. A phone line.

The people in the northern Suffolk development -- where the condominiums have names such as The Venetian, The Bellagio and The Riviera -- are stuck in a telecommunications limbo that a state regulator said he's never seen before.

An impasse between developer L.M. Sandler & Sons and Verizon has left the homeowners without ground connections for phone, Internet or cable TV service. A couple people have pleaded for help from the city, and several have posted their frustrations on an online community message board.

"It's just ridiculous," said

Dottie Moore, who moved in last September. "I didn't imagine that I wouldn't be able to get a house phone for this long of a time."

Prospective homebuyers are warned about the missing service before they sign. But several said they were led to believe the situation would be resolved long before now.

"We'll ask them, and they'll say we're getting it settled," said Miriam Aceves, who moved in Feb. 14.

The developer has arranged for payments to compensate residents for cell phone service and the wireless cards they must use to get on the Internet.

They also will pay for the disconnection fees for the satellite dishes that some opted to use while they await cable.

Mike Doran got a $150 check on Thursday to compensate him for the next three months. He said it's not enough.

The wireless Internet service is also unreliable, and when he wants better coverage on his cell phone, he steps outside, he said. When he does, if he looks to his left he can see the yellow phone lines sticking out of the siding on his home, waiting to be connected.

For others, making do with cell phones and wireless Internet cards is more than an inconvenience. Anna Savage said she does not have a land line to call 911 if she needs to. She and her husband live with her father, who has diabetes and is on disability.

"We don't get much of a signal sometimes," said Teddy Savage, Anna's husband. "If something happens to him, we want to make sure we're able to communicate."

In the event that someone dials 911 but can't talk, a land line will provide the home's address on the city's emergency communication system, city spokeswoman Debbie George said.

A call from a cell phone will provide only the lat itude and longitude of the cell phone tower being used, she said.

Not every resident is complaining. Wade Tooley, who moved in last weekend, said his wireless card works well, and he hasn't had a land-line phone for years.

"We had every opportunity to not buy the house," he said.

The city is looking into what it can do, Mayor Linda Johnson said.

"It's an issue I don't think we've ever dealt with before," she said.

The State Corporation Commission also is investigating.

"In general, people in the United States have a right to telephone service," said Steve Bradley, deputy director of communications for the SCC.

Bradley said the case is the first of its kind that he could recall. "We'll be taking that up urgently."

Bradley said he understands that Verizon, as the local incumbent telephone service provider, is required to serve the development. But first Verizon needs permission to dig on the land, which it hasn't received from L.M. Sandler & Sons because Verizon hasn't agreed to certain conditions.

Raymond Gottlieb, a spokesman for L.M. Sandler & Sons, said the developer wanted to provide telecommun ication services through arrangements with Charter Communications and Verizon. Charter would provide cable and Internet, and Verizon would provide phone service.

The deal would benefit the residents, Gottlieb said, because L.M. Sandler & Sons tries to negotiate on behalf of its homeowners to get them services for at least a 10 percent discount.

Verizon didn't see it that way.

The company wanted the freedom to lay the groundwork for all of its services, including Internet. Lee Gierczynski, a Verizon spokesman, said the developer's demands limits the residents' options.

"The developer wants to restrict Verizon's ability to provide services beyond telephone service," Gierczynski said. "That's not something Verizon would agree to."

Gottlieb said Charter couldn't bring phone service to Remington Park because it didn't offer it in that area. But that might be changing. He said the company told him five days ago that it now had that capability.

Gottlieb said he wasn't aware of any residents complaining about poor cell phone coverage.

"To my knowledge, there is good coverage from at least one provider," he said.

Bradley, the SCC official, said he and his staff will research the law to help them figure out what to do.

"People have a right to telephone service, and it appears that, at the moment, there's a logjam of events that's preventing that from happening," he said.

Dave Forster, (757) 222-5563, [email protected]


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