Facebook fiber

Middle Mile Infrastructure LLC, an affiliate of Facebook, has been laying fiber optic cable along U.S. 221 in Floyd County this summer.

A Facebook affiliate laying long-haul fiber optic cable in Floyd County has knocked out local telecommunications services operated by Citizens Telephone Cooperative at least eight times this summer and run up a repair bill that exceeds $100,000, according to Citizens officials.

A nursing home, a rescue squad station and 300 local residents have temporarily lost service as a result of the Facebook affiliate working in the same highway shoulders where Citizens’ cable is present, Citizens told state officials two weeks ago. Each time, Citizens has pulled its crews off a major fiber installation project to repair the damage, said Greg Sapp, CEO and general manager of Citizens.

If the problem continues, the issue “will put an enormous strain on Citizens resources and we are still recovering from the damages already incurred,” Citizens told the Virginia Department of Transportation in a letter dated Aug. 30. VDOT released the letter Thursday.

Citizens Telephone is a 105-year old rural telephone cooperative turned modern telecommunications provider, while Facebook, a global giant whose social networking platform is widely used in homes and businesses across the region, has not before been known to have any physical facilities in the region.

In April, VDOT gave the first of several permits to install fiber in Floyd County to Middle Mile Infrastructure LLC, VDOT spokeswoman Jen Ward said.

Facebook earlier this year identified Middle Mile Infrastructure as a company subsidiary and said it would be involved in a project to link Facebook data centers in Ashburn; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Columbus, Ohio.

It could not be determined this week if the work in Floyd relates to the Ashburn-Charlotte-Columbus project.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in March that Facebook would make available its excess fiber capacity along his state’s portion of the Ashburn-to-Columbus route for key telecom infrastructure projects.

Sapp said, however, the work in Floyd County is for Facebook’s internal use.

Citizens marked its lines in orange paint on the rights of way before MMI began work, company spokeswoman Lori Saltus said. Nevertheless, as of Aug. 30, it had incurred costs of $108,028 on repairs, the letter said.

There has been no further damage since then, Sapp said. But Sapp said the project is far from complete and, so far, “it’s causing a great deal of headache and aggravation for us and our customers.”

While work appears nearly complete on U.S. 221 between Floyd and Bent Mountain, MMI also plans to lay cable between Floyd and Christiansburg and between Floyd and Hillsville, according to Sapp.

A prefabricated brown telecommunications hut near Galen Lane in Floyd was installed a few weeks ago in connection with the project, according to Citizens officials.

The letter Citizens sent to VDOT gives the date, location and repair expense of what it calls eight cuts to Citizen infrastructure in June, July and August.

In one instance, “there was a 288-strand fiber that was cut,” Sapp said. “When that happens, we have a fiber splicing technician on staff. They have to splice back every single strand of that fiber using a fusion splicer. And that is not a quick process.”

Since the damage began in June, Citizens told the state, its customers have complained not just about service outages, but about property damage, poor traffic control and equipment left on private property without permission.

Citizens obtained vehicle magnets bearing its name to distinguish its contractors’ vehicles from vehicles associated with the Facebook-affiliated project, Saltus said.

Jim Perdue, a resident of Copper Hill along U.S. 221, recalled passing through a construction work zone for the project.

“We got stopped four times before we got to the golf course,” he said.

VDOT is assisting MMI and Citizens to resolve the conflict, Ward said.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers business, banking, transportation and federal court. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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