Citizens Telephone Cooperative, Floyd County’s largest private employer, is strapped for cash and talking layoffs, cutbacks and trouble for the future.
At a recent company meeting, Citizens executives told employees that the company must raise revenues or it will cut staff, salaries and services. The situation is so bad that Citizens is considering taking sales personnel off salary and putting them on commission and sending a strong message to others that they might want to think about seeking employment elsewhere.
Over the last few months, Citizens has quietly outsourced many of its services that once were local. Many service calls now go to a call center in Montana, the company switched its web hosting domain registration to GoDaddy, a Scottsdale, Arizona, computer giant and its cell phone service, launched with fanfare a couple of years ago, is actually rebranded from Verizon.
Citizens’s problems stem from too-rapid growth, expansion into counties outside its traditional service area and a general slowdown in the economy. The company spent far more than anticipated in deploying fiber optic lines throughout Floyd County and on a wireless broadband service in the New River Valley.
As a cooperative, Citizens is supposedly owned by its customers but the customer-owners have not been told of the company’s recent problems and employees were advised to avoid discussing the situation with the very people they actually work for. Those same employees have endured cutbacks in benefits from a company they feel cares more about the bottom line. Some disgruntled employees have filed suit and their cases were settled, quietly, out of court.
Floyd Countians pay more for most telephone services than residents in more populous areas like Montgomery and Roanoke counties. Our DSL Internet service, while extraordinary for a rural area, is more expensive than faster service in urban areas.
As customer owners of Citizens, we deserve more information about the company’s problems. Citizens needs to be open and honest about the uncertain future it faces. We own the company. We need to know.