Citizens Telephone Cooperative of Floyd is pulling the plug on a costly failure to become a player in wireless broadband Internet Service. The phone company will shut down its mobile high speed service in Christiansburg, Blacksburg and Radford on April 30 after spending — and losing — a lot of money on the failed project.

"We agonized over making this decision, frankly," Citizens General Manager Greg Sapp, said in making the announcement.

The agonizing decision is the latest setback for Citizens, the cooperative that tried to be many things to many people while — some say — forgetting its roots in Floyd County. Deployment of the wireless service was expensive and the company never came close to meeting its goals for a subscriber base, signing up less than five percent of available customers.

This web site reported in May of last year that Citizens’ wireless broadband deployment in Montgomery County was in trouble. Verizon, the area’s dominant wireless carrier, offers its version of high-speed wireless service for less and even provides the service in Floyd County — which Citizens apparently never had in its plans.

In many ways, Citizens is a shining example of what a small, locally-owned telephone cooperative can — and should — be. It provides good phone service, an excellent level of high-speed wired broadband Internet service and decent wireless phone service that piggybacks on Verizon cell towers.

But the company is also victim to ambitious plans that could not always be fulfilled by reality. A promise to roll out fiber to the home service countywide four years ago is way behind schedule and its television over phone lines (IPTV) service does not deliver high definition broadcast signals and is still not available to many Floyd County residents. Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Citizens spent in Montgomery County could have been put to better use in Floyd. Perhaps then the citizens of Floyd County would not pay more for telephone and Internet service than our neighbors in nearby counties.

Or perhaps the employees of Citizens would feel more secure in their jobs. The company currently employs 56 people, has reduced staff through attrition and avoided mandatory cutbacks that were threatened last year but some employees say the threat is still there if conditions do not improve. Also, Citizens has outsourced some services that once were local.

(Updated on March 1, 2009)