Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Time to Start Contacting Our Representatives

On Monday I mailed out letters, maps and newspaper articles about our community effort to solve our internet troubles.  A packet was sent to Senator Maria Cantwell, Sentator Patty Murray and Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler.  The body of the letter will be at the end of this post.  But first! They need to hear about this from more than one source.  Many of you have emailed me or posted in the Facebook group about your frustration.  Now is the time to also share your stories with our representatives.  Here is the contact info for each:

Senator Maria Cantwell
915 Second Avenue, Suite 3206
Seattle, WA 98174
(206) 220-6400
Online Contact Form

Senator Patty Murray
The Marshall House
1323 Officer's Row
Vancouver, WA 98661
(360) 696-7797
Online Contact Form

Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler
O.O. Howard House
750 Anderson Street, Suite B
Vancouver, WA 98661
(360) 695-6292
Online Contact Form

Here is the body of the letter I sent:
We are writing to ask for assistance with high-speed Internet access in our low-income, rural area, Winlock, WA. We know that we are not the only rural community getting left behind on the wrong side of the digital divide. It is our hope that you can help us with any or all of the following:
1.     Put pressure on CenturyLink, the only local, non-satellite ISP, to expand their service area and upgrade their existing infrastructure
2.     Direct us toward other rural areas you may know of that have found an Internet solution, particularly whitespace
3.     Help us organize a RuralInternet conference similar to Oregon’s (see enc. 1)
4.     Find out if there is a chance high-speed Internet might be a public utility in the future and, if so, what we can to do help bring that about.  Private industry is failing us.
 So far we have organized a community effort, Winlock Needs Internet (www.winlockneedsinternet.com), and are working with residents to map out internet problem areas (see enc. 2). We tried to determine what help the FCC Connect America Phase II funds accepted by CenturyLink mean for our area but have not been able to get an answer to date. We looked to ToledoTel, an ISP in the next town over, for help but they referred us back to CenturyLink (see enc. 3 & 4)*. We have been investigating alternative ISP methods including microwave (impeded by trees and hills of which we have plenty), satellite (expensive, slow) and are now looking into utilizing abandoned UHF frequencies (whitespace) which will require creating our own non-profit to fund and operate.
 At a community meeting on April 8th attended by ToledoTel COO Dale Merten and CenturyLink rep Brad Althauser we learned that funding for 1 Gig fiber optic service in Toledo is not something that can be replicated in Winlock. We learned due to a minimum 20-30% natural loss over out-of-date copper lines CenturyLink cannot provide the 1.5 Mbps access current customers pay for. (Average reported speeds are closer to 50% of services paid for). We had reports of denial of service confirmed. Increased demand has created an over-burdened system and CenturyLink is denying new account requests. Buyers are now asking about Internet access before buying, impacting a housing market still struggling to recover from 2008. Mr. Althauser told us improvement was unlikely. Winlock cannot give the company a substantial return on investment. He gave us options including selling bonds thereby raising property taxes or crowd sourcing private funds to improve CenturyLink infrastructure. We are a small town with over 50% poverty facing a billion dollar corporation that just accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money. Customers paying full price on less than half the promised service are being told the only path to improvement is to subsidize CenturyLink. We thought that was what the FCC CAPII funds were for. We have tried solving this on our own and now realize we face a task requiring the knowledge and support of more influential entities.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.
*enc 4 references the most recent article in the Chronicle about the ToledoTel/CenturyLink meeting.

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