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In much of West Virginia, Internet not up to speed

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — In a world of modern-day conveniences and technological advances, having an high-speed Internet connection at home is commonplace.

However, in the Eastern Panhandle and other parts of West Virginia, residential Internet connection speeds fall short – of what Internet service providers advertise as well as Federal Communications Commission standards defining broadband internet.

Of four major telecommunications companies operating in the region-Comcast, Frontier, Verizon and Shentel – only two providers, Frontier Communications and Comcast, offer high-speed Internet in West Virginia.

According to Lourdes, a customer service representative for Comcast who said she could not provide her full name due to company policy, Comcast has residential high-speed lines in West Virginia, and offers packages with Internet speeds up to 25 megabits per second (mbps), the standard measure of broadband connection speed.

John, a technician with Frontier who was also obligated to withhold his last name, said Frontier’s Internet services are set up using the physical address of the place they are installed.

He said Frontier offers service packages that provide six, 12 or 24 mbps, with the slower plan priced at $19.99 per month. The other two plans are available for $39.99 per month.

Although many Jefferson County residents get their Internet through Frontier, some say they are not getting what they pay for.

Jefferson County resident Daniel Lutz, a Frontier customer, brought his complaint to the Jefferson County Commission two weeks ago, saying his Internet speed averages two mbps.

Lutz brought a recently filed class-action lawsuit against Frontier to the commissioners’ attention, and asked them to look into joining the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in the circuit court of Lincoln County by Klein, Sheridan & Glazer law firm in Hurricane, states that Frontier’s advertised 12-mbps speeds were reduced without customers’ knowledge, making customers effectively pay for a high-speed connection they do not get.

“(Connection speed) all depends on the distance from the customer’s home to the nearest hub,” John said when asked about Jefferson County Frontier customers’ claims of substandard speed. “It depends on how far the signal has to travel, but we can’t sell it as high-speed Internet if it’s at dial-up speed.”

Chad, a sales representative with Verizon who withheld his last name due to company policy, said Verizon no longer operates in West Virginia since its lines were sold to Frontier, meaning Frontier has the existing infrastructure in place.

According to case documents in the class-action lawsuit, the West Virginia Department of Treasury granted Frontier $42 million to lay fiber optic cables in West Virginia in 2010.

Case documents also state that Frontier made an agreement with the West Virginia Public Service Commission in 2010 to provide broadband to 85 percent of households within four years.

The FCC recommends four mbps downstream and one mbps upstream as the minimum speed for high-speed broadband Internet.

As of January 2015, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed to raise that definition to 25 mbps down and 3 mbps up, further widening the gap between West Virginia’s Internet speeds and other locations in the country.

Attorney Stephen Groh with the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s office advised the Jefferson County Commission on the class-action suit.

“Since the class action is by residential Internet customers, the county commission can’t join because they are a commercial customer. You (the commissioners) could file as individuals,” Groh said.

Groh said the suit has been filed, but the legal class is still being defined.

“The people filing are experiencing similar problems to what people have here,” he said. “I have Frontier at home, and it’s bad at certain times of the day, but if I wanted to get online at 2 a.m., it works great. I think it’s a bandwidth issue.”

Just a few miles away, over the Blue Ridge Mountain in Loudoun County, Virginia, some customers say they are satisfied with their Internet connection speeds.

Matt McGee, a residential customer with Verizon in Loudoun County, described the speed as “medium-fast, maybe above that.”

“It’s definitely fast enough where you can do what you want to do and work,” he said.

Mary Kane said her Internet speed improved when she moved to Loudoun County and signed up for Verizon FiOS (fiber-optic) Internet.

“I moved from Alexandria (Virginia) to Loudoun County, and you couldn’t get FiOS in Alexandria, but you can in Loudoun County, for whatever reason. It’s been great; we don’t have any trouble at all. It’s better service and it’s faster,” Kane said.

Kane said she had Comcast in Alexandria.

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