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Mayor Of Arizona Town Publicly Shames Lousy Broadband Service Provider With Apology Letter To Hotel Guests

from the walk-softly-and-carry-a-ream-of-paper dept

There’s probably no better way to announce that the broadband service you’re providing is inadequate than the mayor of a town feeling compelled to write an apologetic letter to tourists, apologizing in advance for the lousy connection (or the complete lack of one).

Blogger Ewan Grantham came across the following letter in his hotel room in Tusayan, AZ (right outside the Grand Canyon). [link to photo of the letter]

Dear Tusayan Guest-

As a guest in one of our wonderful Tusayan hotels, we know that like our residents, you have expectations in today’s technology age of being able to easily and consistently access the internet highway during your stay in our community. Again, like our residents, we understand your frustration with the inconsistent strength of the broadband signal, or even total lack of an ability to connect. It is an issue that we have to deal with on a daily basis due to a lack of sufficient signal from our primary service broadband provider, CenturyLink. What bandwidth we have coming into the entire community has been severely over-subscribed (sold to too many users for the small signal strength available) and thus the poor quality of connectivity in our community. The situation is NOT due to a lack of effort or desire to provide you a quality service by the hotel where you are staying. It is due the lack of availability of broad bandwidth from CenturyLink.

The Town itself has been working for many months to try and resolve this situation by working with several entities to bring in a consistent and reliable service to meet not only our residents needs, but to also provide the level of service that we feel our guests and visitors to the Grand Canyon deserve. Hopefully we will be able meet those needs in the near future. Please understand that the issue is beyond our control as a whole community and not just this individual business and bear with us and we work to join the internet highway with quality services.

In the meantime, enjoy the reason you have come to our community, the Grand Canyon in all its magical and powerful beauty. We very much appreciate you choosing to stay in Tusayan and hope that you will also enjoy our great rooms, food & beverage services and the wonderful people and staff that call Tusayan their home.


Greg Bryan
Town of Tusayan

That CenturyLink’s connection is indeed lousy has been confirmed by Grantham.

Unfortunately I can vouch that service throughout the area surrounding the national park was rather bad anywhere we went. In the national park itself service was actually pretty good, but I gather that is because the NP has it’s own AT&T contract that avoids using the CenturyLink backhaul.

Grantham also wonders what purpose this letter ultimately serves: whether it’s to push CenturyLink to the bargaining table, or hoping that the negative attention will draw bids from competing services. Either way, there’s no shaming quite like public shaming, and CenturyLink is getting its shaming from the top man in town.

A look at Tusayan’s city council meetings shows that the town has been unhappy with CenturyLink for nearly four years now. The minutes from the June 1, 2011 meeting state the following:

Councilmember Rueter gave a presentation on internet opportunities for the Town and recommends continuing discussions with Century Link, but also to research options for a tower for the Town.

A report on that meeting quotes the mayor as saying previous discussions with Qwest (which CenturyLink bought) date back even further.

Mayor Greg Bryan said he was not encouraged by his own findings. Using his business, the Best Western Squire Inn, as an example, he said conversations with Qwest regarding Internet expansion began nine or ten months ago. In order to provide fiber optics in town, Qwest said they would need around $1,000,000.

More details from that council meeting indicate that Qwest/CenturyLink was looking for a 10-year commitment for a certain number of Tusayan businesses before it would move forward with expanding its capacity — on top of the $1,000,000 investment from the city itself. Mayor Bryan said that Qwest was refusing to move forward until it received more service renewals for Tusayan businesses.

Further notes from later council meetings indicate CenturyLink has been unwilling to budge from either its long contracts or $1 million in funding from the town.

Oct. 26, 2011:

Robbie Evans, Tusayan Fire District, suggested that the Council look into the Arizona Corporation Services in reference to CenturyLink providing the town with broadband service. CenturyLink is supposed to be serving the town with internet and the Arizona Corporation Services can be contacted if CenturyLink does not.

Feb. 15, 2012:

CenturyLink is unresponsive to a solution as it is costly to install. There is current legislation that would allow ADOT to lay conduit along highways or allow vendors to lay conduit in the right away. The Town may need to lay aside money for the next several years to address this problem. Council Member Rueter would like to see fiber laid as wireless broadband would only address the problem temporarily as the need for use increases.

To that end, it appears the city has now abandoned hope of working this out with CenturyLink and is seeking bids on fiber optic lines. While considerably more expensive (this 2013 meeting’s minutes contain a quote from NI Solutions of $1.7 million), this may finally give the town a connection that won’t disappoint incoming tourists and, at least at this point, doesn’t seem to come bundled with a demand for a 10-year contract with a single provider. (NI provides “open-access” fiber connections which can be utilized by any service provider.)

On the other hand, the situation doesn’t seem to have progressed much past the estimate stage. Mayor Bryan’s letter indicates things are still at a standstill with CenturyLink, and no competitor has offered to take over the territory. Bryan’s shaming letter also indicates that CenturyLink’s purchase of Qwest didn’t improve local service, despite earlier hopeful comments that the new providers were “more attuned to help[ing] rural Arizona areas.” This lack of movement possibly suggests that no bids are in the range the town is willing to spend, or it could be that CenturyLink is actively blocking competitors from receiving additional federal funding, something it has done in the past. Bryan’s move, however, is a smart one (if not a little self-interested — he owns a hotel in town): put more eyeballs — especially those of people who drive the town’s economy — on the problem.

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Comments on “Mayor Of Arizona Town Publicly Shames Lousy Broadband Service Provider With Apology Letter To Hotel Guests”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

What bandwidth we have coming into the entire community has been severely over-subscribed (sold to too many users for the small signal strength available) and thus the poor quality of connectivity in our community.

When someone sells you something and does not provide it, there’s a name for that: fraud. Especially if they’ve been talking with CenturyLink (and Qwest before them) for years and it hasn’t gotten any better, it sounds to me like it’s time for the town to stop negotiating and start pressing charges.

Glen says:

As someone that dealt with CenturyLink’s *ahem* advertised speeds and what they actually delivered and the ensuing round around, I can attest to absolutely awful speeds. We were supposed to get 2 Gb/s and only got .5 Gb/s. They said we had to bump our plan because of the increased users on the WiFi network. We did begrudgingly up to 9 Gb/s and still got the same speed. Needless to say, I was willing and able to find a competitor that was able to deliver the speeds and at less money.

What a joke!!!

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But, if you use ANY of the speed test sites, you’ll get good results.

I’ve have sometimes wondered if the broadband providers tag packets going to and from well known speed test sites with a higher priority than those going other sites.

This seems plausible and like something they might do, I’m just not sure how possible it would be though.

Laz Sanchez (profile) says:

Re: This is why we need Google Fiber

Hello all…
Texas is going slooooooooooooooooooooooooooow due to “red” politics.
We would LOVE to work within any south western state that is willing to embrace a “public/private/partnership”.

I hope someone contacts us.
God Speed either way.

Lazaro “Laz” Sanchez
352.641.0752 Florida
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352.345.5820 cell


Xtreme Tower Services
11141 County Line Rd. Suite #116 , Spring Hill, FL 34609, USA

Covenant Design Technologies
San Antonio: Telephone – 210-858-1500 Fax – 210-858-1540
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Anonymous Coward says:

With the Telcos and ISPs trying to ban municipal broadband, it wouldn’t surprise me if they may be ignoring Tusayan’s bid to expand their fiber network. But don’t worry, competition will surely come to Tusayan on it’s own and certainly won’t work with CenturyLink to rob, pilfer, and strangle the Tusayan residents and tourists and leave the town in a so-called internet black-out zone…

Anonymous Coward says:

I just stayed in a Tusayan area hotel back in June for my trip to the Grand Canyon NP and I can confirm the slow broadband speeds. However, I don’t remember it being any worse than I’ve experienced at hotels elsewhere.

I’ve traveled a lot in the last 5 years and stayed in countless hotels, some national chains and some not. 9 out of 10 have what I would argue is crappy broadband. Generally only about 1 or 2mbs, so technically not even broadband. Rarely have I seen speeds anywhere close to 5mbs. A lot of times, the speeds are so bad at the hotel that I’ll use the hotspot on my phone instead, assuming I’m in an LTE area.

The absolute best I’ve seen was in June in Utah near Bryce Canyon NP, at a mom & pop place offering cabins. Consistent 25 to 30mbs, even over WIFI. I was actually able to use and enjoy Netflix for a change at a hotel. Most the time I don’t even bother.

ECA (profile) says:

who KNOWS?

Anyone here understand that States And cities have this funny contract, most times, NOT to compete with Corp services?
If there isnt one, then WHY NOT build their OWN..
they could take Phone/NET/CELLPHONE services AWAY from the corps in that AREA and start CHARGING the corps for access for 10 miles around the area..
All monies garnered could be givin tot he city and CUT taxes..

Whatever (profile) says:

It's pretty simple, actually

You only have to look at a map to understand this town’s problem. They are in the middle of nowhere. They are miles from the next nearest little burg, and that in turn is even further away from anything serious.

Even if they decided to run their own muni broadband in the town, they have no real source of decent bandwidth in the area period. If they want high speed internet, they are going to have to run a fiber a fair distance to get it.

Basically, they aren’t a good test case. They are that small percentage of people who live in the middle of nowhere but seem to be demanding big city service, cost to the provider be damned.

This is a case where perhaps the state should be stepping up and helping these places get wired up.

Archillies says:

Re: It's pretty simple, actually

Interesting but half true comment Mr. Anon. They are in the middle of a great gob of nothing – that’s true – but so is the Grand Canyon which actually has good broadband and is serviced by AT&T. I think it is an excellent example of poor customer service in a rural area.


Anonymous Coward says:

I assumed that the purpose of the letter was to discourage people from giving the hotels bad ratings, which would be bad both for them and for the town.

I just did a quick search for Google reviews for hotels in the area and sure enough, there are numerous references to slow (or non-existent) internet in the reviews for Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Grand Canyon.

“You can forget about internet service. Almost impossible to connect. Even the computers at business center are so slow basically worthless.”

“For three days I could not get a wi-GI signal anywhere in the hotel.”

The hotels are being downgraded by reviewers for an issue that is beyond their control, and their mayor is trying to help.

Anonymous Coward says:

For all the people who have made the it’s-a-sparsely-populated-area,-what-do-they-expect-argument, I think it’s time to stop looking at the internet and broadband as luxuries and start looking at them as necessary infrastructure. Electricity was once a luxury, but now we expect it even in small towns and we’d never say, “Well, if they want electricity, they should move to a city.”
It’s not just good for the people who live in these areas, it’s good for the nation. Do we really want to leave millions of people behind in the 20th century?

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, but on who’s dime?

1.7 million to get the line to a town with maybe 1000 subscriptions, call it 50k a month of income. 34 months (3 years) just to pay for the line, no counting the service. Realistically, once you roll everything out, it’s nearly 10 years to recoup anything on that investment.

Electricity went the same way – towns that wanted a good hookup paid for it, plain and simple. Otherwise, yes, like many people in Alaska, they would get power either from a generator or by paying a fortune to get the lines run especially for them.

Mathew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

34 months to recoup on infrastructure isn’t bad, and if other things can be run off of that (cell towers and whatnot) for which significant sums can be charged (DF or wavelength services to a tower) then that becomes even shorter.

We normally estimate 5-7 years for a full payoff (including the service) – if we’re looking at $10k/mo for bandwidth (I don’t know what the price of an interconnect is at Flagstaff but let’s assume something like $50/mb/mo), so using your numbers you’re looking at 200mb in to 1000 subscribers which is 200k per subscriber, which when contended – as consumer broadband is – is not bad.

And at $50 per month per subscriber, you’re still only looking at ~43 months to pay off the infrastructure and break-even on the service (not including other OPEX, interest and whatnot, of course – expand it out and somewhere in the vicinity of 60-84 months would be a reasonable OTOH estimate).

HOWEVER, Wikipedia says there is only 554 residents, so it’s safe to say only about 200 households at the most, which, assuming all else was equal, multiplies either the price by 5 times ($250/mo) or the payback time (up to 35 years). The alternative being that we estimate the cost of the wholesale connect to be less (say $2000/mo for say 50mb) but that doesn’t make much of a dent overall: at $70/mo, you can spend $12k on paying back the infra and $2k on the bandwidth but you have a payback time of 142 months, which is probably longer than most companies would be comfortable with, whereas at the original price of $50 a month you’d be pushing 20 years just to recoup the capital investment assuming zero operational expenses beyond bandwidth.

Assuming CenturyLink has their fiber already running along the road (and if that is the case, what’s stopping them from increasing the available bandwidth?), perhaps there is some way of forcing them to sell said fiber to someone who will push some more bandwidth down the pipe – it would save time and dollars from laying new fiber and might reduce the amount the town needs to spend.

Or if AT&T has fiber to the area, maybe they can hit 2 birds with 1 stone: reduce the overall cost of implementation by utilizing existing fiber (dark or wavelength if possible, maybe a 10-20 year IRU) and buying the bandwidth at the next cheapest place (probably Las Vegas NV?) and reducing the overall amount the town needs to spend in order to get decent broadband [yes yes, cue the AT&T overlords evil cackling].

I personally will be interested to see the result and/or how NI Solutions came to it’s figures and/or what else would be involved with their implementation… I’d do it if I could make the numbers work.

Redheadedranter (profile) says:

Tusayan and GCNP service

Wow. Three plus years later and we are still having this problem. I am a park resident and can’t even go to school online without relocating due to this lacking service.
The most annoying thing is that Phil Anschutz, who owns Xanterra, the park’s largest concessions operator, also owns all or part of CenturyLink if I am not mistaken. Why wouldn’t he want the best for his own property?

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