Phenix lack of internet explained

Published 12:32 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2019


A few weeks ago, several internet customers in Phenix were left without internet service.

The customers were being served by Internet Service Provider (ISP) Kinex Telecom of Farmville and its equipment that was located on a tower at the Phenix Elementary School.

According to Executive Director of Operations with Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS) Brette Arbogast, during the recent construction of the new gymnasium and removal of the trailers at Phenix Elementary electricity to the tower needed to be disconnected. Arbogast also said that the tower required inspection at the cost of $2,500. “We offered for the ISP to pay this fee and take the tower and they were not interested,” said Arbogast. “The school checked with other local boards to see if they wished to take on this responsibility and liability and after no one was willing to do this and the school had an opportunity to remove the tower now before the gymnasium was built at a much cheaper cost than to have it disabled.”

According to Arbogast the tower at Phenix Elementary was initially installed by the school around 2001 while they were working with the ISP Linkabit. “This was done to connect a wireless connection backbone for the schools,” he said. “We eliminated the wireless backbone a few years ago but the ISP has used the tower for many years.”

According to Kinex President Jim Garrett his company was serving five customers from the equipment on the Phenix tower.

Joan Tuck was one of those citizens who was left without internet service from Kinex. “I live 5 miles out of Phenix, and I can’t get Shentel cable or DSL,” she explained. Tuck, who teaches online summer classes and is a professor at SVCC said the  lack of internet causes an issue not only for her but for students as well. “Kinex has always served the underserved rural areas of Southside Virginia even when those areas may not have been profitable.”

According to Garrett, his company inherited the five customers from the ISP Linkabit and knew that the tower would need to be shut down one day, but did not know when. “We upgraded the tower equipment twice and considered asking the town of Phenix for a land lease to erect a tower on the hill, but with Shentel having broadband in the town, the business case could not be made and it calculated out to over a decade to get a return on an investment, so that was unrealistic,” said Garrett.

In 2009 Garrett tried to get stimulus money for internet for the county. “I hired some school kids and personally went door to door with them where there was no broadband in large parts of the county, but could not make a case for submitting for the stimulus money, so that was out.”

Garrett also spoke of the FCC grant funding that has been awarded to Charlotte for broadband as well as MBC and Microsoft’s announcement of their project to bring free internet to the students in the county.

“That took away a huge chunk of what little demand there was in the area, but I had hoped it would work for the county,” added Garrett. “Clearly that project certainly didn’t take off as expected, but who wants to go up against Microsoft, so we tried to keep track while we built over 14 miles of fiber in the county and focused our efforts on a sure thing, fiber.”

Not long after power was shut to Kinex’s equipment, a town meeting was held in which there were hopes to work out an agreement of sorts.

“Kinex went above and beyond in trying to come to an agreement with the Town of Phenix to restore service,” said Bridgette Sinnott, owner of F & S Enterprises. “They wanted to place their equipment on the water tower. Unfortunately, they were unable to come to an agreement with the town.”

F & S Enterprises is in the town of Phenix and according to the owner, relies heavily on the internet daily.

“Currently, we do not have an internet provider. I have been working off a hotspot for internet,” said Sinnott. “I load emails twice a day to save data. “I have been in touch with Shentel, and they have said they are working on getting a connection to me, but as of right now I do not know when that will happen. If I can’t get Shentel then I will have to go with Hughes Net. I have already had Hughes Net as a provider; they don’t work for me.”

On Monday, Sinnott said that Shentel contacted her and she was told that it could be 90 days before her internet will be up and running. “This whole thing has been a nightmare,” she said.

Tuck also expressed her frustration with the town.

“My words to the Town Council … every town in Charlotte County has a responsibility, not only to the citizens of that particular town but to the county at large, to keep any broadband service provider that we have to support small businesses, education, and even farmers who need to research and download forms, weather and information,” she said.

Phenix Vice Mayor Dean Evans did verify that the town did try to work with Kinex. “The town did give Kinex approval to put the antenna on the water tank, but Kinex decided not to,” Evans explained. “It may not be the ideal choice or cheapest, but citizens do have internet. So, to say they don’t have the internet is not true.”

According to Garrett, about the time he was trying to work out plans with the town, one of the five remaining customers went with another provider and the following week Riverstreet Networks, received close to $8 million from the FCC to build broadband in the county.

“So, they (county) now have $15.8 million for building fiber in Charlotte County, making it foolish for me to venture into a losing tower project, with very little opportunity for growth,” he said.