The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 10, 2010

Hello? Are you there?

Service cuts in and out for Buckwheat Valley Road customers

By Tricia Pursell
The Daily Item

MOUNT PLEASANT MILLS — Residents along a rural Snyder County road say telephone service has been erratic at best for the last six years, and it's only getting worse.

This, they say, is in spite of Verizon's claim that the phone company replaced a temporary line with a permanent one in mid-May.

"It's hit or miss," said Lisa Treaster of her land-line phone service along Buckwheat Valley Road.

A stay-at-home mom, the insecurity of not knowing when the phones will work, especially in the case of an emergency, is what concerns her the most.

"It scares me," she said.

She also runs a business from her home, which requires Internet access. DSL is not available there.

Ever since Bill and Thelma Shaffer moved to the area four years ago, they have had trouble with their phone service.

"It goes out at least twice a month, sometimes more," Thelma said.

The service may drop completely in the middle of a conversation, she said. And the outage could last one hour, three hours — maybe a full day.

"It's so unpredictable," she said.

At times, she also can hear someone else's conversation on another line.

Mick Treaster, also of Buckwheat Valley Road, said a couple of years ago, his phone service was out for a total of 40 days.

He contacted the phone company, and even filed a report through the state. He was told there was nothing they could do at the time.

A farmer, he said not having phone service affects his livelihood.

"I'm losing some valuable business," he said.

Because he's not living in a city, he feels that Verizon is ignoring his needs.

Meanwhile, Lee Gierczynski, a spokesman for Verizon, asks people having trouble with their service to call Verizon's toll-free number, and a repair technician will be sent to try to troubleshoot the issues.

They send repairmen often, Treaster admitted, but it's not giving a permanent solution to the problem.

"We've been doing this for years now," he said. "I'm getting tired of calling."

"It's just a never-ending story," he added.

The phone lines are lying on the ground and hanging haphazardly from the poles, Treaster said.

"It's pretty shoddy workmanship, if you ask me," he said.

A temporary line was installed after Verizon experienced chronic problems with animals chewing through the former underground cables, Gierczynski said.

He was unsure when that temporary line was set up.

Over the last few months, the phone company's local operations manager has been in touch with customers in the affected area, he said.

The new permanent line is an aerial cable.

Despite this new line, Lisa Treaster said her phones were out three times last week.

She and her husband, Rickey, always have had trouble with their phones, she said, but it has gotten progressively worse, and they have been "thoroughly frustrated" for the last six years.

There are no other phone companies to turn to, and cell phone coverage is limited, she said.

"We don't have the luxury of having (cell) service in our house," she said. "And I don't feel we should have to pay $150 just to have cell service because our land line doesn't work."

Though Verizon always has listened to her complaints, and even reimbursed her a few times when her service was out, she said the only avenue left to residents to get the problem fixed permanently is to take the company to court, but she doesn't want to have to do that, and it means she would have to take time away from her family.

Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz responded to the complaints at a public meeting Tuesday.

"We got to put some pressure on Verizon to get this fixed," he said.

The next stop, he said, would be the Public Utilities Commission.

State Rep. Adam Harris, R-82 of Mifflintown, said he and Kantz contacted Verizon last week and requested their officials visit the site and assess the situation.

Last year, Harris responded to another complaint by writing a letter to Verizon.

"In this day and age, nobody should be without telephone service for any extended period of time, aside from the intervention of a storm or natural disaster of some sort," he wrote. "I sincerely hope that Verizon can fix this problem for the people of Buckwheat Valley Road before the lack of telephone service exacerbates future problems."

n E-mail comments to tpursell@dailyitem.com.