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United Way of Lancaster County


Shentel, tapped to restart Lancaster’s community broadband, deals with complaints in Manheim Township

(Source: Brookings)

In April, Mayor Danene Sorace announced that Lancaster had picked the company Shentel to revive and complete the city’s stalled community broadband project.

Since then, the city and Shentel have been negotiating a contract. It is expected to come before City Council for approval next month.

In the interim, however, Shentel infrastructure rollout in neighboring Manheim Township has come under fire.

The company has engaged as many as eight subcontractors there as it lays underground fiber-optic cable for its Glo Fiber broadband Internet service. The township has fielded hundreds of calls about the work, township Manager Rick Kane said, with residents complaining about lack of communication and failure to restore excavation damage to their driveways and yards.

As reported by LNP, the issues were discussed extensively at the township commissioners’ meeting on June 12. At the next meeting on June 26, Shentel acknowledged the problems and pledged to fix them to the township’s and residents’ satisfaction.

“The construction process is something that we take extremely seriously,” Bryan Byrd, Shentel government and community affairs specialist, told One United Lancaster.

Township Manager Rick Kane said Shentel has been improving since the township reached out to it last month.

“They’re doing a better job communicating,” he said, and the volume of calls to the township has been dropping.

Glo Fiber

Shentel operates in Lancaster Township, and it is quickly expanding into East Hempfield, Millersville and other areas of the county. Shentel is also active in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“As we looked at the market, we saw a big opportunity to bring competition,” Byrd said.

Shentel’s flagship broadband product is Glo Fiber. Its benefits, Byrd said, include symmetric upload and download speeds of up to 5 gigabits per second.

“It gives residents choice and a superior technology,” he said. “It’s a tremendous good news story for residents and small businesses.”

Broadband is a difficult industry, Byrd said, and it can take years before a company sees a positive return on the high up-front investment that’s required.

He said the company is working very hard in Manheim Township to make sure residents are satisfied. Any multi-million dollar infrastructure project will necessarily involve some disruption, he said, but Shentel is doing its best to limit it and “accommodate the character of the community,” he said.

“The biggest piece is communication,” he said. To that end, he said, there’s been a renewed effort to send mailers and post door hangers notifying residents when construction is about to happen.

“There are a lot of touch points with the local residents,” he said.

As for disturbances to surface areas, Byrd explained that if there are water or sewer lines in a particular spot, the boring machine has to go underground and crews have to cut a square in the road.

“It’s important to let people know that that will be getting paved over,” Byrd said. “How do we communicate efficiently? How do we answer questions in an effective way? … The key is oversight and constant vigilance.”

In some extreme cases, he said, Shentel may have to dismiss a subcontractor if that shop does not work to its standards.

“If we don’t have citizens happy while doing construction, it’s going to hurt us long-term – we’re good corporate citizens,” said Shentel Vice President Chris Kyle.

Kane, the township manager, said the number of contractors was a factor.

“There were eight subcontractors there in a lot of yards at one time, which leads to a higher volume of complaints,” he said. “There are so many crews working (at once, that) the volume of complaints seems to be a lot.”

Residents, he said, can call Shentel directly (at (540) 984-5510) with questions, but many times, they call the municipality instead.

Many calls have involved work in the public right-of-way or in areas covered by easements. Existing easements provide legal access to a swath of land in a property owner’s setback for utility work, emergency management or other purposes. However, many landowners don’t know they exist, or are confused about how they work.

“Most folks don’t understand what the right-of-way is,” Kane said, adding that when this is explained, many of the complaints have been resolved.

Taking over MAW’s network

In Lancaster, Shentel will be responsible for building out MAW Communications’ unfinished fiber-optic network, which totals about 16 miles so far, and making high-speed Internet available to all city households. Work will probably start in the second half of next year and continue into 2026, Byrd said in April.

“We’re really excited about the Lancaster city project … The city has been an active partner,” Kyle, the Shentel vice president, said.

Byrd said Shentel used to operate Sprint networks in the Lancaster area around 2015, so it has experience here, including a history of working successfully with PPL.

It was PPL’s lawsuit against MAW over the latter’s use of PPL’s poles that brought the rollout of LanCity Connect, MAW’s community broadband service, to a halt.

City Chief of Staff Jess King declined to say much about the administration’s discussions with Shentel.

“There isn’t much to share at this point, as the city has been negotiating the details of an agreement since our last update to council,” she said in an email. “We anticipate bringing an agreement to council in August.”