More Fiber! Century Link Tackles Service Demands in Park Hill

A screen capture from a vintage  AT&T promotional film portrays the construction of the first transcontinental phone line.
A screen capture from a vintage AT&T promotional film portrays the construction of the first transcontinental phone line.
Being part of an instant-gratification culture, I'm used to helping myself to whatever technology I need and then coming back for seconds, like Jabba the Hutt hitting an all-you-can-eat buffet. Imagine my astonishment, then, when I tried to switch my home Internet service to Century Link and was told to get in line and wait for an indeterminate period of time — possibly a few months.

Did they really say months? Yes, they did. If the home in question happened to be located in some off-the-grid backwater, some remote outpost of the state still awaiting its first Carl's Jr., I might have been less baffled. But I live in Park Hill, one of Denver's most venerable and storied neighborhoods — rich in history, rich in amenities and diversity, rich in rich people. What in the name of Alexander Graham Bell was going on?

A little background: I had been a Century Link customer at the same location for several years, but had forsaken the company in 2015, lured by a snazzy, sassy promotional offer from Comcast, a well-bundled harlot of a deal that would supply me with a surplus of services I'd never use and channels I'd never watch. Predictably, the price of that package crept up steadily over the months that followed and had jumped 50 percent by the two-year point. I decided to dump cable and return to Century Link for my wi-fi and home phone needs. (Yes, I still have a land line — and a boxy, indestructible Kaypro 2x, running the CP/M operating system, somewhere in the basement. Call me old-fashioned, but don't try calling me on the dial-up modem.)

The saleswoman at Century Link who took my order scheduled installation for the following Friday. Friday came, but Century Link didn't. I called their offices late in the day and was told the appointment had been postponed indefinitely because of some sort of infrastructure issue. News to me on both counts, and a bit awkward, too, since I'd already canceled my Comcast service. I had to go crawling back to the Dark Lord or face the prospect of being entirely cut off from the online world.

Over the next few days, I spoke to a couple of technicians, and finally a supervisor in Seattle, in some Stygian, fog-bound office where held-up work orders went to slowly curl up and die. She explained that my area of Park Hill already had as many customers as the existing fiber-optic network could carry, and that a Century Link engineering team would proceed with upgrades at some point, but she couldn't say when. "It could be months," she said.
click to enlarge Switchboard operators in the 1940s, back when there was One Phone Company. - TECHCHANNEL.ATT.COM/ARCHIVES
Switchboard operators in the 1940s, back when there was One Phone Company.

As it turned out, it was six weeks — and then I got a call from Century Link telling me my work order was back among the living. I was curious enough about what had happened to get in touch with company executives, flashing my press badge and slinging tough questions. Like, "What the heck happened?"

"What happened in your neighborhood was that the demand was greater than we originally planned," regional operations manager Tina Hoal told me. "We put so much fiber in, and we calculate how many people will take the service."

Denver's rapid growth is affecting even older, established areas like Park Hill, leading to battles over scrape-offs, lot-splitting, and a campaign to establish a historic district that has deeply divided the community. Hoal says delays in new service are typically only a few weeks; the addition of a splitter on the existing lines allowed the company to supply 32 additional customers in my immediate area. "It depends on where we are in the build," she explained. "In your case, we just needed a splitter."

Century Link market development manager Brandon Yergey said the company, like other telecoms, takes into account a "take rate" in its infrastructure planning. "Running fiber is not an inexpensive process," he noted. "We have to make sure we're making the investment in the right places, the smart places. But our network investment is a continual thing. We're always trying to offer the fastest possible speeds for customers at the best price."

Century Link recently announced that it has expanded broadband service to 28,000 households and businesses in rural Colorado, and the wi-fi it supplies to Denver International Airport was recently judged the fastest among the world's top airports by an independent testing company.

My install is scheduled for later this week.
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast