Victoria Building Mugs

The Victoria City Council meets at the Municipal Court building, 107 W. Juan Linn St.

Every day last week, Dr. John McNeill’s office struggled to operate without most or all of its phone and fax service.

The office has its service with Suddenlink, which has been under fire recently throughout the city as residents seem to increasingly express complaints about the service provider.

“Suddenlink may have their reasons, but it has put us, and our patients, in a bind,” McNeill said Friday. “It takes it to another level when considering a patient’s availability to their health care.”

Bobby Solansky, who does IT work for McNeill’s office and owns Bobby’s Computer Repair, said Friday that Nov. 25 he called Suddenlink four or five times a day to get help. He said he first called about the phone issues Nov. 23 but was told no one could help over the weekend.

“When Monday came around, I called first thing and was told someone would be working on it,” he said. “But by the end of the week, after calling consistently every day and being told different timelines of when things would be resolved, the problem hadn’t been addressed.”

In fact, the phone service only got worse as the week went on, said McNeill’s billing manager, Candida Tudor. She said the office normally has six phone lines and one fax line, and early in the week they were operating with just one phone line. By Friday, she said, all of the lines were down.

Tudor said it was a “serious problem” that Suddenlink wasn’t addressing the issues quickly because the office uses the phone and fax for significant operations, including communicating with patients and faxing prescriptions.

“I asked if they could please expedite the help because we were talking about a medical office and needed this figured out, and nothing,” she said. “There was no help, and it’s only gotten worse.”

After the ongoing complaints from residents, mainly regarding Suddenlink’s internet service and customer service issues, Victoria’s City Council approved a resolution that expresses the city’s dissatisfaction with Suddenlink. The city planned to send the resolution to State Rep. Geanie Morrison and State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst as well as the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Though the city’s attorney, Thomas Gwosdz, has said Suddenlink does not have a monopoly over services in the area, others have disagreed. Regardless, the city may enter into a new franchise agreement with Victoria Electric Cooperative that would grant the company authority to provide broadband services throughout the city. Victoria City Council will discuss the agreement and conduct a public hearing on the matter Tuesday.

McNeill said he is glad to hear about the possible agreement.

“Any time there’s only one main provider, it sets up the possibility of poor service,” he said. “Our nation is built on competition. When there is no competition, there’s no incentive to do well.”

Gwosdz explained in the council’s meeting packet that Victoria Electric Cooperative currently has a franchise agreement to provide electricity in some parts of the city. The company is expanding its business to add internet service, he wrote, and to provide the services, it intends to run new fiber optic cables in city rights of way.

The ordinance would grant VEC the right to run its fiber optic cables in city rights of way for 10 years. The ordinance would require VEC to comply with city ordinances and regulations regarding placement, location and maintenance of its facilities and would require VEC to relocate its facilities at its expense if the city needs to expand or reclaim parts of its rights of way.

In exchange for the right to use public rights of way, VEC would pay the city compensation equal to the amount that the Public Utility Commission would require the company to pay if it were a certificated telecommunications provider, Gwosdz wrote.

VEC would pay a franchise fee based on the number and type of connections provided in the city. VEC would initially pay the city 86 cents per month for each residential connection, and $2.90 per month for each commercial connection. Based on VEC’s projections, Gwosdz wrote, the annual franchise fee is estimated to initially total between $6,500 and $22,000.

McNeill said he is glad the council is discussing the agreement and conducting the public hearing.

“Very simply, we are the consumer,” he said. “(Suddenlink) is supposed to work for us, and that’s not happening. It’s good people are talking about this because we need to consider other options.”

Solansky agreed.

“All I know is competition brings accountability, and right now, there are not enough options for people to go to,” he said. “Another option for high speed internet would definitely be a step in the right direction.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, or on Twitter.

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