C-Spire Promises to Do Better As City of Tuscaloosa Eyes Withholding Permits Over Complaints
A regional internet and cell service provider vowed to do better in their efforts to expand into Tuscaloosa after city staff weighed ending the contracts that allow them to operate in the area over a long list of complaints from residents.
For the unfamilar, C-Spire is a Mississippi-based company that provides mobile cellular service, home internet service and more. They are a powerhouse in the Magnolia State and have been inching outward into Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, growing into one of the largest wireless carriers in the nation.
They should not be confused with Spire, the natural gas provider formally known as Alagasco.
C-Spire announced last year that they would be entering the Tuscaloosa market to offer ultra high-speed broadband internet through fiberoptic wire, which was met with excitement from area leaders who were glad to see access and options expand.
The relationship has soured somewhat as Tuscaloosa residents complain to elected officials that C-Spire is damaging other infrastructure and private property as they bury new fiber line.
City Councilman Norman Crow raised the issue during a Tuesday meeting of the council's Public Projects Committee, who heard complaints from residents who attended the meeting in person as well as from some constituents who sent in texts and emails.
Alan Spencer, a resident of Tuscaloosa's Wellington neighborhood, said C-Spire's recent expansion into his area left a lot to be desired.
"They came in, tore up my yard and then they left the Wellington neighborhood for at least two weeks, they were nowhere to be found and they obviously pulled their crew off to work somewhere else in town," Spencer said. "It seems to me that if you're going to come in and tear up a neighborhood you ought to go ahead and complete that neighborhood, get it restored."
Councilwoman Raevan Howard said she'd received complaints about the way the telecommunications company left the road leading into an area business.
Steven Deal, a commercial agent at Pritchett-Moore Real Estate, said C-Spire hit a waterline beneath his driveway in Riverchase months ago, made or contracted a shoddy repair and never communicated with him directly.
All the problems led city attorney Scott Holmes, at the direction of Mayor Walt Maddox, to pen a letter to C-Spire outlining several potential breaches of their franchise agreement with the city.
"The city of Tuscaloosa has received near-constant complaints from our citizens about lack of communication from C-Spire, excessive damage and soil work, and lengthy times before disturbed areas are repaired and restored," Holmes wrote. "Clearly, C-Spire's conduct does not meet our expectations or the expectations of our citizens."
Holmes said no new permits will be issued for C-Spire to work in Tuscaloosa until the problems are resolved and asked company leadership to attend Tuesday's meeting.
Answering the call was Mark Rigney, the senior vice president of engineering and development at C-Spire, who was joined by half a dozen other company men to address concerns from the council.
"Obviously we take this very seriously and I wish we could be here under different circumstances," he said. "We understand that when we're in a neighborhood, even when we're in the public right-of-way, we're in people's personal space and we take that very seriously."
Rigney acknowledged that communication with Tuscaloosa residents has been a problem for C-Spire -- that mailers and door hangers alerting people to work in their neighborhoods often also serve as advertisements for C-Spire services and likely get tossed away as spam mail.
"We've changed those up so they look like a notification, so that it's very evident, right off the bat, this is a meaningful communication about something happening in your neighborhood," he said. "There's no sales pitch in it."
The new communications also offer affected residents a direct number to call in the case of a problem during or after C-Spire work in the area.
Rigney said permits have already been issued to keep the company busy installing residential fiber lines for around a year, but said C-Spire will also be offering high-speed internet to small businesses in the area, and that each one would require a bit of work and a new permit from the city. Without a good relationship with the city, that potential business could die on the vine.
"You guys calling us, that's threat enough for us to jump to," he said.
"Obviously anybody can come in here and tell us they're going to do better and these are all the things they're going to do to fix it, but until we start seeing it I'm hesitant to say 'OK, great, y'all have a nice day," City Attorney Scott Holmes said.
City staff and elected officials agreed to continue gathering feedback from residents and working with C-Spire to ensure their arrival in Tuscaloosa becomes a significantly smoother experience.
For more coverage of this issue as it unfolds, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.