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I live in the US and I can't get home internet

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In some parts of the country, there is only one choice for home internet. In others, there are none

Whatcom County.
Whatcom County.
Washington State University

Daryl Myers is a resident of Whatcom County, Washington. He decided to go public with his story after nearly two years of frustrating negotiations for internet with local providers and officials.

A little over three years ago, I moved to a quiet rental property in the northwest corner of Washington state, about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. The area is beautiful, with farmland all around. While it’s somewhat remote, it’s only a 10-minute drive to the nearest school, grocery store, and fast food joint. It’s technically part of the city of Lynden, which has a population of around 12,000.

There was an understanding that internet was not available. No DSL from the local telco Frontier, no cable from the local cable provider Comcast, and no options for wireless home internet. A few of my neighbors were able to get service through Clearwire, until they stopped offering it. Most people just go without it.

Suddenly, the lack of internet became a real problem

I thought I could go without too, since I was not planning on being here for the long haul. However, I got to know the area and the neighbors and decided that it would be a great place to raise my kids. Suddenly, the lack of internet became a real problem. I work for one of the larger manufacturing companies in the county, and my kids are now enrolled and established in the local school district. My family is from the area and has called Whatcom County home for a few generations now.

I’d been using my AT&T phone as a hotspot and pay about $15 per gigabyte for the 4G service. It gets the job done, but I end up paying much more than if I was on a comparable wireline internet plan: it’s been nearly five years since I have had home internet, but when it was available, I could get Comcast for as little as $35 a month. If my family was going to stay, we needed a real solution.

After a year of trying to get residential service, I decided to try a different tack. I called up the business division of Comcast, knowing they had just run cable in the ground only a quarter of a mile away, and asked about getting a business class line of service for my home. The first rep that I spoke with assured me that it would be no problem — he just needed to send the request to the local office to get a start date. A few weeks passed. I reached out again and was informed that service wasn’t an option after all. The cost of construction was too high: $181,000.

Determined to keep trying, I reached out directly to Tom Karinshak, EVP of customer relations. A week or two later, I was contacted by someone in the local office who informed me that the original $181,000 figure was likely incorrect and they would have to do a site survey. The results of the survey were more promising: Comcast found it could do the construction for about $48,000, less than a third of the original estimate. Then the bad news came: Comcast was now asking me for almost $8,000 to cover the "customer contribution," which is still outside my budget.

Comcast was now asking me for almost $8,000 to cover the "customer contribution"

I was told that if I could get enough interested parties to sign Letters of Intent, they could potentially do the construction at no cost to me. I took it on myself to drum up interest for Comcast and was able to get nine other households to sign letters of intent.

Unfortunately, Comcast decided they still needed $8,000.

At this point, most people would have given up. I understand that laying cable is expensive and Comcast has to run its business. But some digging led me to believe that Comcast may be violating its franchise agreement with the city of Lynden.

According to the agreement, "Whenever the Grantee receives a request for Cable Service from a Subscriber in a contiguous unserved area where there are at least 15 residences within the 1,320 cable-bearing strand feet from the portion of the Grantee’s trunk or distribution cable which is to be extended, it shall extend its Cable System to such Subscribers at no cost to said Subscribers for the Cable System extension, other than the published Standard/non-Standard Installation fees charged to all Subscribers."

After nearly two years of trying, I still can't get service

Comcast can charge subscribers for the cost of construction if the requested service area isn’t dense enough, but our home meets the requirements. My driveway is less than 1,300 feet from the nearest cross line and there are at least 15 other homes within that area.

When I presented this argument to Comcast, they claimed my area isn’t covered by the city agreement, even though it was annexed into city limits. They say I am covered by the county agreement, which has looser extension requirements, and therefore they aren’t required to serve me.

At this point I decided to play a little hardball. I turned my battle to the city of Lynden. After some back-and-forth, a city official agreed that there are 15 homes within 1,300 strand feet, which is what is required for the build. He agreed to take this new information to Comcast, which was encouraging.

That was a couple weeks ago. Comcast has still not responded to the new information presented. I live within the city limits of the second largest city in my county. The area around where I live has been slated for subdivisions, and was recently been approved for 200-plus homes. Yet I can’t seem to get home internet service after nearly two years of trying. I would like to take advantage of services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon streaming, as well as the opportunity to telecommute and for my wife to grow her photography business. Home internet is a necessity in today’s world. I shouldn’t have to move my family a quarter of a mile down the road just to get it.