HERMITAGE — When a Spectrum technician performed work in Carol Swartz’s yard a few weeks ago, she thought the employee left the work unfinished.
She said a worker left a line, which was supposed to have been buried, lying on the ground and told her that the cable and internet utility would put in a work order for someone to bury the line.
Swartz said that meant a landscaping contractor wasn’t able to grade and seed her yard, along American Way, until the line was buried properly. But that wasn’t all — the technician warned that the Swartzs’ neighbors could experience broadband internet service outages.
The technician’s prediction turned out to be accurate. Swartz’s neighbor, JoAnn Reed Miller, lost Internet access from Friday, April 9, until Sunday, April 11. For Miller, the lost internet was more than an inconvenience. She works from home typing medical reports, so the outage left her unable to do her job for about three days.
“My boss was able to reassign the work, but that’s not an easy task on weekends,” Miller said. “And that’s a paycheck and three days of Internet service. Are they going to compensate me for that?”
Swartz, meanwhile, was unable to get a clear answer on when the line could be buried. Repeated phone calls failed to yield information on when Spectrum would remedy their problems.
Swartz said she spoke with different people and heard multiple answers toward how soon it would take to get their line buried. Miller likewise said she often spoke with multiple people, getting response time estimates ranging from a week to 10 days to June 2.
Eventually her husband went out on April 14 and buried the line himself — just as a work crew happened to arrive, Swartz said.
“Spectrum came in and asked ‘what are you doing?’ and my husband told them, ‘we’ve been waiting for days,’” Swartz said.
Swartz and Miller are not alone in their grievances against Spectrum. Residents have raised their concerns to Hermitage officials for the past few years. One of the most common concerns was a lack of drop boxes for payments at Spectrum’s Hermitage office and complaints about the utility’s customer service.
In the past, Hermitage commissioners have held public hearings were held so residents could address Spectrum representatives directly. Hermitage commissioners have also forwarded residents’ complaints to Spectrum.
William Morand, Spectrum’s senior director of communications, said new office locations do not include drop boxes, and the company decided to discontinue them. However, he said customers could make payments at were other locations such as Giant Eagle or Dollar General.
Now, Hermitage Board of Commissioners President Duane Piccirilli is encouraging residents with complaints to reach out to the Federal Communications Commission.
By taking their complaints to the federal level, Piccirilli said he hopes residents can not only get some answers or have the drop box returned, but that the attention could lead to some sort of legislation or oversight for Internet providers, similar to those imposed on gas or water utilities.
“I really feel that it’s a utility now,” Piccirilli said. “Times are different than they used to be. Now, Internet’s an essential service.”
Commissioner Louis Squatrito said he’s also received complaints from residents regarding Spectrum, and was able to speak with representatives from the utility representatives in early April.
“I told them something has to be done, because they’re the only game in town but they have terrible, terrible service,” Squatrito said.
Aside from customer service, Squatrito brought up the issue of the drop boxes, which many older customers prefer instead of entering the store or using a public kiosk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though Spectrum officials were concerned about drop boxes being broken into, Squatrito said he provided the officials with a photo of the Hermitage municipal building’s drop box that is used for tax and sewer payments. The officials seemed receptive to the request, he said.
The city commissioners signed a non-exclusive cable franchise agreement with Spectrum in 2019. Commissioners have said previously that another cable company could technically enter the local market, but it would be cost-prohibitive since Spectrum owns the necessary infrastructure.
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Residents can file complaints with the FCC at 888-225-5322. They can also contact U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s Sharon office at 724-342-7170, and the congressman can open an inquiry into the FCC.