Changes are coming for Lake Havasu City’s broadband infrastructure, but Suddenlink officials say those changes won’t happen overnight.
Outages and slow network speeds have long been a source of widespread frustration for Havasu residents — and according to Suddenlink Regional Vice President Mike Horton, their complaints haven’t always been civil. Police were called at least three times to the company’s retail store on Industrial Boulevard throughout 2020 due to irate customers, Horton said.
Horton appeared Wednesday to address mounting customer complaints before the Tri-City Council, a quarterly gathering of elected leaders from Lake Havasu City, Kingman, and Bullhead City.
Lake Havasu City Mayor Cal Sheehy, who requested that Horton speak at the meeting, voiced residents’ frustrations with the company.
“We met last January,” Sheehy said. “There was a shift in customer service in December, almost 12 months later. Our citizens and businesses deserve solid Internet connectivity. My understanding a year ago is that we would have those issues resolved. I know that obviously the coronavirus has upended our world, but other businesses have been able to pivot. Why did it take Suddenlink so long?”
According to Sheehy, the lack of response at Suddenlink call centers have required residents to visit the company’s physical location — creating additional issues.
“If you’ve been to Havasu recently, our retail center has citizens wrapped around the building. There’s no way they can physically distance, and they just get frustrated. By the time they get to your representatives, they’ve already heard other peoples’ stories.”
Horton, who oversees Suddenlink markets throughout the Southwest, says the company faced challenges due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including technicians at risk from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the forced closure of its retail locations last year. Although many of those stores have since reopened, bandwidth issues continue to plague Suddenlink customers.
“We have faced an unprecedented demand for service,” Horton said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in bandwidth usage by residential customers as well as a reduction in bandwidth usage in business corridors.”
But those changes will take time. Horton said that two of the primary causes of service issues in the Havasu region have been an unprecedented demand for service – and how that service is being used.
“When the network was designed, we hadn’t considered the tremendous use in video telephony, or the upstream channels” Horton said. “One of the challenges we continue to face is the need to create a more symmetrical network footprints in our communities … if it’s three lanes down, it should be three lanes up. That’s going to take some time.”
Horton described the network’s downstream and upstream channels as the difference between a three-lane road, and a busy sidewalk. Suddenlink’s cable network was initially designed with high download speeds in mind, facilitating online media services such as cable television and online media streaming.
According to Horton, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has required a greater number of users to teleconference and participate in virtual learning, creating a flow of upstream network traffic that Suddenlink’s infrastructure was ill-prepared to accommodate in the Havasu region.
“We are continuing to work with our engineering and field teams to alleviate network congestion and continue to improve our performance, especially in our upstream channels,” Horton said at Wednesday’s meeting.
According to Horton, customer complaints have primarily included customer care and call center availability, field technician performance and network reliability, and the closure of the company’s retail stores throughout Western Arizona.
In Lake Havasu City, Horton says difficulties have been compounded by as many as four Suddenlink technicians testing positive for the coronavirus, which forced the company to seek outside contractors to address service issues last year.
The company is now hiring additional personnel and spending extra money for remediation upgrades and updates, Horton said.
“We’re focused at the highest levels of our corporation for a demonstrative process correction and continued trajectory for sustained improvement of our service levels.”
Horton said at the meeting that he intends to work with Suddenlink’s leadership to maintain communication between the company and local media outlets, to keep customers apprised of service issues.
According to Horton, the company is pursuing new technologies and fiber-optic options that may allow the company to expand its internet infrastructure in Havasu.
“I think we’re going to rely more and more on distance learning and on telepresence,” Horton said. “That’s going to rely on our symmetrical network being improved to a greater extent … I would like to take the opportunity to work with (Havasu) and a technology team in the Tri-City area to address investments and improvements.“
Sheehy offered to spearhead the effort to enhance Havasu’s broadband infrastructure at Wednesday’s meeting. He has asked Horton to return and provide an update as to Suddenlink’s progress at the Tri-City Council’s next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in April.
Suddenlink operates under a franchise agreement with Lake Havasu City, allowing the company to use city rights of way for its cable infrastructure. According to the city’s FY 2020-21 budget, Havasu is projected to earn $1.76 million in revenues from such agreements by the end of this fiscal year.