Facebook has come to Floyd County—in a manner of speaking.
While the social media behemoth will bring neither internet services nor jobs to Southwest Virginia, it has been making its presence known through ongoing fiber construction projects along state routes 8 and 221, including roads that go directly through Floyd.
The construction in Floyd County is just one of Facebook’s many projects laying long-haul fiber throughout Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.
Supervisors on Aug. 13 discussed complaints from residents about traffic, blocked driveways, damaged mailboxes and trucks being parked on private lawns.
The Virginia Department of Transportation issued permits to Middle Mile Infrastructure, a subsidiary of Facebook, to operate in certain rights-of-way, and Chairman Lauren Yoder said the Board of Supervisors has no authority over the fiber trucks or crews.
For its part, VDOT spokeswoman Jen Ward said, “We’re definitely concerned if we have residents that aren’t happy; we want to know about those things.”
She added, however, that VDOT’s primary concern is to help properly permitted companies complete their work.
“They need to work just like everyone else, and they’ve asked for a permit; they’ve gone about it the right way,” she said.
She compared the project to that of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, saying that ultimately responsibility for complaints or damages rests with MMI. Ward said residents should call 1-800-FOR-ROAD with any concerns, and a work order will be logged with VDOT’s system.
Citizens Telephone Cooperative has experienced repeated damage to its facilities along Facebook’s fiber route, according to Executive Vice President of Customer Relations & Marketing Lori Saltus.
Saltus said Citizens “provides the location of our facilities to any and all contractors prior to construction,” but has suffered damage in spite of that.
Citizens has shared complaints with VDOT and the managing contractor of the fiber project, Saltus said, and “we will continue to do so as needed.”
Ward said VDOT is “aware of issues Citizens has had with some of their lines being cut,” and that the department is “working with both the entities to help them come to a resolution with those concerns…and any damages (Citizens) has accrued.”
The telephone cooperative is currently in the process of a fiber deployment of its own, with the goal of bringing gigabit service to 60% of homes passed in Floyd County by the end of the year. “Cuts and damage to our facilities take away from this progress,” Saltus said.
Having fiber lines cut is also a safety concern, Saltus explained.
Damaging Citizens’ facilities can interfere with cell towers and emergency services, “creating life-threatening situations where customers cannot call 911,” Saltus said, calling it a “threat.”
Ward said that prior to issuing a permit to a contractor such as MMI, the permitee is required to contact any utility companies that may be impacted by its work, as well as to notify residents if the work will “impact someone’s life,” such as by blocking their driveway. Permits also come with “allowable hours,” which Ward said have been adjusted recently due to school starting. MMI is currently allowed to work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays, Ward said.
According to Ward, permits are issued for one year, with the option to renew or extend after the first 12 months. The permit for MMI’s work was initially issued in April, updated in June, and is valid through June 2020. According to the office of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, another state affected by the fiber build, the project is expected to last 18-24 months.