Volunteers plan to walk the fiber optic line

Volunteers plan to walk the fiber optic line

by Alexis Bechman roundup staff reporter

The bedraggled condition of outage-prone, CenturyLink fiber optic line has prompted a citizens group to lay plans to walk the entire line to Strawberry looking for more damage.

On Wednesday the Roundup provided photos of dangling lines to CenturyLink representatives, who vowed to send work crews out to fix the lines.

Breaks in the cable between Payson and Camp Verde have repeatedly caused long outages in cell phone and Internet service — some lasting for days.

One recent break in the lines that was caused by a contractor widening the road near Camp Verde is associated with the death of a Payson man who drove south of town to get a cell signal and had a crash on the way home. Bystanders couldn’t call 911 because of the outage.

The poor condition of the CenturyLink lines on the outskirts of Payson pose a public safety hazard said Mac Feezor, who heads up the Northern Gila County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Feezor said the company must repair its lines before service is knocked out again to the area.

Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd authorized CERT to walk the line along with the help of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, which will use its drone to inspect the line when it passes over canyons.

Greg Friestad, who has been working with Feezor and the Rim Country Broadband Consortium, located the line damage while out scouting for a hunt.

Friestad worked for CenturyLink for 25 years and saw the area go from having open wire circuits that could only handle a handful of telephone calls to high-speed fiber optic line that delivers broadband service.

Payson is fed from a single line that runs from Camp Verde. The Consortium would like to see another line run to either the Valley or the White Mountains area to form a loop that would provide backup service if the line from Camp Verde goes down.

When service goes out, as it did last time, people are unable to make cell phone calls or use the Internet, hurting businesses, health care providers, schools and residents.

Feezor said life safety is the biggest concern with people unable to call 911. They would like to see CenturyLink add resiliency to the system so this does not occur again.

CenturyLink says it is committed to eliminating the digital divide in rural areas.

The Consortium says CenturyLink has been nothing but difficult to work with on a solution.

Friestad first met with CenturyLink officials in December 2014 after an eight-hour outage in Payson. Little has been done to improve the system since then, he said.

CenturyLink said it has made substantial network upgrades in Gila County in the past decade, including offering 1 Gbps of service to the Payson Unified School District (the first in the state) and extending the fiber line along Highway 260 to the proposed university site, said Chris Denzin, CenturyLink vice president in a recent letter to the Roundup.

Feezor said while it is great they upped service to the school district, it came at the cost of throttling back service to other users, including himself.

The Roundup asked CenturyLink to respond to these concerns, but the company declined to comment.

A CenturyLink media representative did respond promptly Wednesday when the Roundup sent them several pictures Friestad had taken of the fiber optic line laying on the ground north of Payson.

Mark Molzen, issues manager, corporate communications with CenturyLink, said they had crews out looking for the damage and asked the Roundup for the exact location of the line damage, which we supplied.

Friestad said he was outraged when he saw how CenturyLink had failed to maintain the lines.

“The safety of the community cannot be left hanging,” he said.

In one section, the line lay on the ground after a coupling broke and the casing that encloses the fiber optic line fell. In another section, the wire that holds the casing to the power line had unraveled and the line sagged. At another pole, Friestad found the door to a metal box that houses the line on the ground and open to the elements.

Feezor said he is concerned there are other sections of the line that need repair that CenturyLink is unaware of. He plans to have CERT volunteers walk the line looking for any other issues.

Contact the reporter at abechman@payson.com

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