Residential phone service. It seems so simple.
Run a line here, flip a switch there and voila!. But at the beginning of the school year, when Charlottesville teems with thousands of students, hooking up efficient phone service isn't so simple -- especially when there's only one residential phone company in town.
Sprint, the dominant provider in Charlottesville, faces a glut of service requests at the beginning of the year, and as the requests pile up, so do the complaints.
Students living off Grounds moan about delayed or forgotten service appointments as well as being put on hold for too long.
Like Jody Flipper. The fourth-year College student set up his morning appointment with Sprint two weeks in advance so he could take off work. To his dismay, the workers never arrived. When Flipper called Sprint to ask about the delay, he was told they would try to be there that afternoon. Flipper took work off once again when they finally arrived -- several days later.
Many students interviewed by The Cavalier Daily related to being "put on hold forever" and transferred around a lot.
After waiting for service, second-year College student Genevieve Hustead took matters into her own hands. She approached a Sprint technician who was on another job near her house. Fed up with long hours on hold and confused representatives, Genevieve said, "It was refreshing to experience such an efficient and accommodating technician."
Sprint service technician Billy Grandstaff agreed these past few weeks have been busier than usual. He said he and the other workers are working "seven days a week, from dawn until dusk to try and catch up." Technicians like Grandstaff receive job assignments one at a time, but if he is in an area where other students are in need of service he tries to accommodate them as well.
To complicate matters further, Sprint is the only carrier for Charlottesville residential local service. While other companies like Adelphia and CFW-Intelos offer local business service, they do not offer residential service.
But Sprint is not a monopoly, said Eddie Lynch, Sprint's public affairs manager, because "other companies have the option and capabilities to offer local service."
He is not complaining about the lack of competition, though. Lynch said they "definitely don't want to give away customers." But why do the other companies shy away from residential local service?
Susan Bernard of CFW-Intelos said the company currently is focused on business and wireless and intends to remain concentrated on those areas for now. CFW-Intelos offers a local wireless cell phone plan geared toward students, however, which allows unlimited local calls for $40 a month.
So Sprint may not technically hold a monopoly, a business tactic which was made illegal by the Telemarketing Act in 1996. But to a frustrated customer looking for an alternative, options seem to be rather restricted.
In light of the problems at the beginning of the school year, some students don't understand why Sprint is not better prepared.
"This happens every year," fourth-year College student Melissa Neuner said. She suggested they anticipate the students' arrival at the end of August and take steps to compensate.
Lynch countered that the company has made customer service upgrades to handle the influx. They have brought in technicians from other areas and have implemented physical switches that require less installation time. Sprint actually is faring well considering the heavy demand, Lynch said. He foresees "being caught up in mid September."
Despite the customer service upgrades, students still face problems.
Second-year Engineering student Craig Peterson received a number from Sprint that was already in use by a Law School student. He said after many failed attempts to remedy the situation, he finally had to get his mom to call Sprint.
Fourth-year College student Rob Albert was equally fed up. He simply wanted to transfer his original number from one apartment to another, but once the switch occurred he "could make outgoing calls, but not receive them." Mix-ups such as this -- a seemingly simple task -- further contribute to Sprint's delays.
To add to the slew of problems, others have experienced issues with billing. Third-year College student Kate Allen reported receiving "charges every month last year for her initial instillation fee."
With several years of experience, Steve Torpello, a fourth-year Engineering student, advises that "the best bet is to just show up at the [Sprint] store" located in Seminole Square shopping center.
Sprint officials also said to help alleviate potential complications, students should call several weeks before arriving in Charlottesville. But for some students, this may not help service delays at all.
So next time you hear an exasperated student exclaim, "All I wanted was a hook up" -- think phone lines.