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.
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.