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Hundreds of Santa Cruz Mountains Residents Face Internet Shut-Off

Cruzio cites poor condition of lines as AT&T phases out its DSL

Nearly 300 customers in the rural Santa Cruz Mountains are facing the loss of their internet service as AT&T—the company that owns and maintains the lines—makes plans to phase out DSL service on the costly copper wires that carry it.

The mountain residents’ internet service provider—Santa Cruz’s Cruzio, which pays AT&T for access to the copper wires—says that the lines are in such poor shape that they are loath to continue charging for the services. The company contacted the customers recently to tell them the service will be cut off in June.

“It’s a service we just can’t sell,” says Cruzio co-CEO and founder Peggy Dolgenos. “We just can’t charge people for it. We’ve gotten emails saying that we’re criminals for charging for this service, and all we’re doing is passing along these fees we have to pay. We’re not making any money on it.”

In a prepared statement on Monday, an AT&T spokeswoman said that their wireless service “may be” available, depending on the customers’ address. The spokeswoman also said that AT&T has invested $8.7 billion on its network statewide.

“We do not know why Cruzio has informed its customers that it will discontinue DSL service,” the statement reads. “We continue to provide DSL service to existing customers.”

The telecom giant AT&T has refused to take on the mountain residents as customers, says Philip McManus, whose house on Smith Grade is one of the locations facing the loss of internet.

The irony, McManus says, is that he has a landline, a service run and operated by AT&T on the same wire that carries the DSL, or digital subscriber line, for the internet.

In Bonny Doon and the surrounding environs, Comcast has told residents they would have to fork over $250,000 if they want that service to reach them, McManus says.

For McManus and his neighbors in the sprawling, forested area made up of several small “quasi-neighborhoods,” the loss of internet would mean more than work and school issues, especially when many things are still being done remotely amid the pandemic. During the wildfires in 2020, which barely missed his property, the internet provided a vital safety net.

“In that situation, our internet connection was absolutely vital in terms of being in contact with our neighbors, and (with) Cal Fire that was putting out information about the status of the fire,” he says.

McManus says that he and many of his fellow mountain denizens are now hoping they can count on Starlink, a satellite service run by SpaceX. That company, founded by Tesla creator Elon Musk, launched roughly 1,600 satellites into near-Earth orbit and has plans to blanket the skies with 12,000 by 2027.

The system is in the beta stage now, with service possibly starting later this year. Neither Starlink nor SpaceX returned a request for comment. 

Dolgenos warns that, even when up and running, Starlink will be one provider in charge of the service, with few rules regulating prices or quality.

“An unregulated monopoly is not a good solution for something that is a public utility that is necessary to live in the modern world,” she says.

And that, Dolgenos says, is the root of the problem: Thanks to telecom deregulation in 1996, the internet is not considered a public utility. Since then, the requirement to provide universal telephone service (and internet) evaporated, she says.

“It is an enormous problem,” she says. “Telecommunications and the internet is vital to everyone’s modern life. We’ve been trying to raise all these red flags for many years.”

The issue in Bonny Doon has gained the attention of a handful of local lawmakers. A May 14 letter signed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, state Sen. John Laird, Assemblyman Mark Stone and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty asks AT&T to take the residents as new customers. The company has previously said it will not take new DSL customers as it phases out the service nationwide. 

In addition, Dolgenos says that Cruzio has “begged” AT&T to repair the existing lines so internet outages, which have lasted as long as a month, can be fixed.

Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, she says.

“We asked them to go have a look on Nov. 5, and on Nov. 23 we’re still asking them,” she says. “Can you imagine?”

Cruzio is offering the affected residents 90% off its coworking service at its downtown Santa Cruz location, which has internet and meeting rooms, among other things, for a total of about $25 per month. 

Still, for Cruzio—one of the nation’s oldest internet service providers and a favorite for locals seeking a way to cut ties with telecom giants—stopping their service was especially hard.

“That’s why it’s particularly heartbreaking to make these decisions,” she says. “Because we’ve had some of those customers for 25 years. I know several of those customers. We care about them deeply and we hung on as long as we could.”

UPDATED May 24, 2pm: This story was updated to add a statement received May 24 from AT&T and to correct which company provided an estimate on the cost of extending service to affected residents.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Dan BOb

    June 8, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    Why has no one mentioned the fact the SurfnetUSA can provide high speed wireless internet to many of those affected? Seems like lax and insufficient reporting to me.

  2. Molly Jay

    May 24, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    This is more of the same old B.S. For years, Verizon and other companies passed along onerous fees and taxes to us and other rural communities to cover their “expenses” for maintaining copper wire that they didn’t maintain. Then they lobbied Congress and the FTC to allow them to stop maintaining the copper because “everyone is using wireless now, and that’s just fine for internet access.” No answer to the reasonable concerns of rural communities that don’t have good wireless options and depend on copper even for emergency/911 support. We paid for maintenance that never happened. Then these companies either sold the rural regions they didn’t want to support anymore to other companies (looking at you, Frontier) or simply announced that they’d drop them entirely, as is happening now with Cruzio.

    The question isn’t why these self-serving telecom companies are scooping up profits and running. It isn’t why they refuse to provide service (or to maintain service) where it isn’t profitable for them to do so, while screaming bloody murder whenever a city tries to step up and provide internet to any area where they feel they have the “monopoly,” even when they aren’t serving the community in question.

    It’s why is our government allowing this? Where are our representatives?

    Of course, we all know the answer to that, too.

  3. Bob dunn

    May 22, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    This article was written from Cruzio’s point of view. I live in Bonny Doon and used to get internet service from Comcast (Xfinity). They have a monopoly now with ATT phasing out. They only offer bundled service which is enormously expensive ($200/mo). I agree with the authors that this has become a vital service and needs to be regulated by the CPUC. This is a ‘last mile’ issue and we need legislation to control it. Whether it’s federal, state or local regulation, I don’t care. I just want internet access at a reasonable price. Please call or write all your representatives to make this an issue.

  4. Paul E

    May 22, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    We live on the Westside (near Swift & Mission) and Cruzio has told us we’re in the same boat due to AT&T Legacy DSL. They’ve recommended we switch to Xfinity and check back with them in about a year.

  5. Tommy

    May 22, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    Starlink will fix all this within the next year. There is zero need to run wires at all anymore.

  6. Philip McManus

    May 22, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    Dear Editor,
    The article, “Hundreds of Santa Cruz Mountains Residents Face Internet Cut-Off” incorrectly quotes me as saying that ‘AT&T has told residents they will have to fork over $250,000 if they want that service to reach them.’ Rather, it was Comcast who indicated some years ago that that is what it would cost to go the last half-mile to reach our neighborhood with their cable service. Reaching individual houses would add further to the cost of what is probably an out-of-date estimate. To my knowledge, AT&T does not have its fiber cable anywhere near us. I would appreciate it if you would make that correction to the online version of the article.

    Meanwhile, we remain without any decent option for internet access in our part of Bonny Doon.

    Philip McManus

  7. Bob C

    May 21, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    Its ridiculous that Cruzio blames AT&T. Cruzio is terminating our service – not AT&T. Its the only service that we have – and WAY better than nothing. The completely absurd proposition that cruzio is somehow a victim or protecting us in this is fake news at its worst.

  8. Alex G

    May 21, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you for publishing this article, but the heavy emphasis on the perspective of Cruzio is problematic. The reality for us in the mountains is that we don’t have other options, at least until Starlink is a reality, and Cruzio is unwilling to work with us. They told us that it’s not worth it. It’s not because they care about their customers, we are simply too much hassle. I’ve been a customer of Cruzio for almost 20 years. When internet went down, they didn’t have a problem continuing to charge us. Now we’re simply not important enough, and don’t make them enough money for them to bother.

  9. John R Pierce

    May 21, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    DSL (and the copper phone lines that carry it) is a regulated common carrier service, and by law must be shared with other ISPs (such as cruzio). AT&T is killing it in favor of their ‘UVerse’ fiber service which is UNregulated, hence doesn’t have to be shared.

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