IOWA DERECHO 2020

Thousands still without internet 3 weeks after derecho

Frustrations grow over missed and late appointments

Mitchell Levin stands Monday in his damaged yard, before his damaged house, in southeast Cedar Rapids. Levin hasn't been
Mitchell Levin stands Monday in his damaged yard, before his damaged house, in southeast Cedar Rapids. Levin hasn’t been able to blog or write a monthly magazine column because he hasn’t had internet since the Aug. 10 derecho. Still, he was billed for his monthly service. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Mitchell Levin hadn’t missed making a daily blog post in 16 years before the Aug. 10 derecho blew a tree down on his roof and knocked out his internet service.

Now, three weeks later, Levin still hasn’t been able to update the “This Day ... In Jewish History” blog or write a monthly column he contributes to an Israeli magazine because Mediacom hasn’t been able to get a technician out to restore services, he said.

Still, Mediacom’s automatic bill-paying service withdrew money from his account Saturday.

“I do not know what to do to get anybody to move anything along,” said Levin, 75. “I’m paying for this. There’s nobody to appeal to.”

Frustrations are growing in the Corridor about delays in restoring internet service now three weeks after the Aug. 10 storm, especially with students doing remote learning and many employees still working from home because of COVID-19. Several customers contacted The Gazette to report continued outages, technicians not showing up when scheduled and projected reconnection dates as late as Sept. 29 — seven weeks after the storm.

Cindy Lint, 50, has watched her neighbors enjoy cable television while still waiting for Mediacom to restore service. If another cable provider was available on her street, Lint said she would’ve switched.

But Mediacom is the largest cable provider in the Cedar Rapids area, as well a major provider in the nation. Mediacom serves about 400,000 to 500,000 customers in Iowa, which makes up about a third of all its customers.

As of Monday afternoon, fewer than 5,900 Mediacom customers in Cedar Rapids were still without service. About 450 in Marion, 100 in Hiawatha and 30 in Newhall were are also out of service. Mediacom has set up five free community Wi-Fi hot spots that customers without service can go to.

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The lack of home internet has thrown a wrench in Lint’s already-difficult job search after she was laid off in April.

“If I don’t have my internet, I can’t look for a job,” Lint said. “I put a lot of it in God’s hands because I believe He doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.”

When she needed to update her smartphone, she used Hy-Vee’s free Wi-Fi while wandering the aisles.

She has called Mediacom so many times she said she knows how to “play their game” to get to a customer service representative instead of automated updates.

“You have all of their automated things, and if you don’t answer the right questions, they’ll hang up on you,” Lint said. “I’ve learned, so I always say I’m asking about my appointment so they actually give me a person.”

On Aug. 20, she heard it “wasn’t going to be a very long time” before her internet was back.

She was told Aug. 22 there was a standing appointment to restore her service the next day.

Ten days later, she’s expecting to have to wait another month. Mediacom scheduled her for an appointment Sept. 29 — 45 days after her first call to the company.

“They scheduled your hookup wrong,” the customer service person told Lint when scheduling the appointment, she said.

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After The Gazette alerted Mediacom to Lint’s situation, the company offered her a “standby” spot if an earlier appointment opens.

“We’re hopeful the service will be restored sooner” than Sept. 29, Mediacom spokeswoman Phyllis Peters said.

Peters said some appointment times have been pushed back because this is already a busy time of year aside from storm damage.

When The Gazette asked Peters about technicians not showing up when scheduled, as several customers have told The Gazette, she said it was the first she had heard about it.

“I can’t answer that in general because there isn’t a general policy to say ‘ignore the calls,’” Peters said.

Peters later said, in Levin’s case, Mediacom canceled the appointment because the company determined the outage was because of a downed line. Mediacom does not set appointments for rehanging downed lines.

Peters said Mediacom has brought in crews from across the Midwest to help restore service, and crews have not taken any vacation time since the derecho hit.

Most technicians are working a “high volume” of overtime hours as well, Peters said.

“We have Mediacom crews from all the surrounding states cycling in and out,” Peters said. “And yes we’ve hired additional contractors. … We need to bring in every available set of hands and boots.”

That’s little consolation, though, for customers like Lint or Levin.

“Why are these people making promises if they can’t keep them?” Lint said.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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