Rural Internet Installation Causing Concern

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY –   Many residents, property owners and even one county commissioner have warned the ongoing installation of internet lines have caused issues, from trespassing on private property, blocking roads and even causing the sheriff’s office to become involved and work on resolving the matter. 

While many may assume the work is part of DETCOG, (Deep East Texas Council of Governments) while they have been champions of better internet and broadband connections, the work is actually being done under a 2020 FCC (Federal Communications Commission) program which awarded over $9 billion to improve access to rural communities. 

Spectrum Gulf Coast, LLC., part of Charter Communications, won bids for the federal money in many parts of East Texas. They will only receive payment for the installation once the work is complete and residents are wired. Part of the grant was a stipulation the service offer a minimum of 25 bytes per second download speed and three bytes per second upload speed. 

The Messenger first learned of the issues with the installation at a recent Grapeland Noon Lions Club event where Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove was questioned about the issue. Several property owners complained of unmarked vehicles, trespassing on private property and some non-English speaking contractors. 

The sheriff told the Lions at the time his office had been receiving more and more complaints about this installation project and telling the group he was happy to trespass the installers, but warned the property may or may not get connected to the network, if the installation cannot be correctly completed on the property. 

At a Tuesday, Feb. 27 county commissioner meeting, Houston County Precinct Two Commissioner Willie Kitchen brought the issue up for a separate reason, stating he had called the sheriff’s office himself over concerns regarding the installation. 

“I called and had a deputy come out because they were in the roadway. The deputy got that sorted out and they moved off the road. Are property owners obligated to let them on their property?” Kitchen asked the sheriff. 

Hargrove confirmed his office had reached out to the company to try and solve the situation. 

“Spectrum said their subcontractors are working on getting permission before they go on someone’s property and we have received reports of damaged fences and other things,” Hargrove said. “I told them since they don’t have permission to be on private property, they can be filed on for criminal trespass. And I told them I will do exactly that and to get with their subcontractors and get it figured out.” 

Houston County Commissioners hear updates on issues with broadband installation

Kathi Calvert, Houston County Electric Cooperative General Manager, told The Messenger she is also working on clearing up confusion over the project, worried HCEC members might mistake their work on power lines for the contractors working to install the Spectrum internet lines. 

Calvert said she had pointed out to Spectrum officials HCEC utilizes marked trucks and works to communicate with members on what work they are doing and where they are doing it, in order to avoid confusion and protect the safety of both the residents and the workers. 

She indicated HCEC is required by law to make their power poles available for projects like broadband internet, where Spectrum, in this case, is essentially renting space on the poles for their network. While HCEC does have easement agreements with property owners to do maintenance work and fix downed lines, they cannot and did not transfer these agreements to Spectrum, which is responsible for working with property owners during installation. 

There are ongoing concerns of property rights, residents being startled or feeling in danger from installers on their land and clear communication between property owners and the company as they work to install what most would consider a needed upgrade to rural areas of the county. 

After being contacted by several concerned residents, The Messenger reached out to Charter Communications’ Kim Haas, Director of Communications for this area who answered she did not have any specific complaints registered but noted, in part, “Spectrum is in the midst of an unprecedented effort to extend our advanced fiber-optic network to reach hundreds of thousands of additional homes and small businesses across Texas, many of which are in rural, unserved locations. As we work in rural areas, we commonly are working on windy roads with narrow shoulders/right of ways/easements. The use of large equipment and our trucks is necessary to connect rural America – but the disruption is temporary and only during key points of the construction effort. I think it’s important to keep perspective on the work we are doing and the priority is it for residents who don’t have internet access. There’s a lot of excitement for efforts to connect these rural areas and more often than not, our crews are stopped by local residents asking when they can sign up for service.”

It is still unclear when the work will finish, but The Messenger will update this story with any comments received from Spectrum or its parent corporation. In the meantime, trespassing of any kind can always be reported to the sheriff’s office and Spectrum lists a customer service number on their website: 1-833-949-0036. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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