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The Trouble With Frontier…

Phillip Dampier April 27, 2009 Frontier, Time Warner Cable 19 Comments

Several weeks ago, I documented Frontier Communications as a potential competitor customers in the Rochester area could choose for cap-free DSL service.  Much of that information is in our “Alternatives” section.  Unfortunately, some of that information is wrong, not because I got it wrong, but because the customer service representative got it wrong when they shared it with me.

FrontierI now have had the opportunity to sit down and document the correct pricing information, as well as my DSL experience thus far.  This is also an important article for another reason — it helps explain why Frontier is never going to be a viable competitor for a lot of people in this community.

It’s All in the Bundle

Frontier Communications, like Time Warner, believes in the “bundle.”  They want to be your single provider for television, telephone, and broadband service.  The incentive for taking the bundle is the greater discount you receive from a combined package.  Take all three components, get the largest discount.  Take just one and the discount is less.

Unfortunately, Frontier has a problem with their bundle.  They cannot deliver a wired television package.  They resell Echostar’s DISH satellite system instead.  That automatically excludes some people who don’t have a good “look angle” to the proper spot in the sky to receive the satellite signal, do not want a dish on or about their house, or live in an apartment building that makes satellite equipment untenable.

Frontier’s broadband service uses ADSL (digital subscriber line) technology.  It transmits data on frequencies above the frequency range of the human voice, which lets you use the same phone line for both data and regular phone calls.  The telephone company gets to leverage their copper wire infrastructure to deliver Internet service to customers without having to rewire entire communities.

Unfortunately, DSL cannot provide as consistent a level of speed to customers as fiber or coaxial cable systems can.  That’s because the further away you are from the telephone company “switch,” or “central office” which serves your exchange, the lower the signal level reaches your home.  If you are within 5,000 feet of the central office, your speeds will likely achieve those close to what the company markets.  If you are within 5,000-10,000 feet, you’ll probably end up with around half of what they promise in their ads.  If you are over 10,000 feet, things start to drop off rapidly.  At over 18,000 feet, at least with Frontier, you are basically out of luck.  The phone company usually “locks” your speed at the rate which can best sustain itself without dropping out, in a setting on your modem.

For people who just use their connection for e-mail or web page browsing, they may not know the difference.  They don’t often understand 10Mbps down/1Mbps up, much less realize their effective speed might be far less than that.  But for anyone who uses higher bandwidth applications like video, downloading, and other types of streaming, the difference can be dramatic.

The Competitive Situation for Broadband in Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester divides the broadband market into two players: Time Warner, which has the largest percentage of broadband customers, and Frontier Communications, the local telephone company which has had a declining percentage of the market.  Clearwire and wireless data services do not have a significant market share for consumer broadband.

Time Warner has been cleaning up in Rochester because their infrastructure provides a far more consistent product, at substantially higher speeds, than what Frontier can provide.  The differences are dramatic for speeds, and consumers are not obligated with the cable provider into a term contract.  There is no equipment rental fee, and taxes are lower on the cable broadband product.

Frontier DSL can be less expensive than Road Runner, as part of a discounted bundle package.  Frontier routinely tries to market a bundle with a two year service commitment with a $300 cancellation fee.  But if you are outside of the range for acceptable DSL service, Frontier DSL is not an option at all.  If you are on the periphery of a central office switch, your service will be degraded, at best.   For many who are concerned about speed and performance, DSL locally has not kept up.

My Personal Experience With Frontier

Things weren’t going well from the start.  During my initial phone call to inquire about rates and packages for Frontier’s DSL service, confusion reigned on the part of the call center employee in DeLand, Florida.  That’s because we were enrolled in a long-since-discontinued Frontier Choices plan, which allowed customers to choose which phone features they wanted on their line for one flat price.  You just had to call and request them.  We were told that DSL would be available to us for an additional $29.99 per month.  We said yes.  The call center representative tried to add the service, but actually ended up stripping all of the included phone features we’ve used (caller ID, call waiting, etc.) out of the Frontier Choices package and began charging full retail price for each one.  Then, since the DSL service was not added properly, no proper work order was issued, no equipment was ever sent, but the billing sure started.  I should have realized something wasn’t right when the representative kept saying we qualified for “free wee-fee.”

Two weeks after waiting for the self-install kit to arrive, I called to inquire and was promised that a second self-install kit would be mailed out by overnight express.  That never arrived either.  I finally drove down to the local Frontier store and picked one up myself because I grew weary of waiting.  I installed it and… nothing.  The service didn’t work at all.

Finally, over the weekend, a Frontier specialist was assigned to the case and promised to get a service call established and get things straightened out.  It was then he discovered just how botched my account was.  Our last month’s bill was around $50.  This month, so far, it was $122.94 and counting.  Oh good.

After a prolonged conversation, we got the right account plans configured (details and pricing below).  Now all that was necessary was a service call to straighten out the horrendous speed I was getting after the service was activated.  The modem was locked at 320kbps down/192kbps up because that was all the line could sustain.  The representative in DeLand figured that with some creative technical work, we might achieve 6-7Mbps for downloads.  That was still less than the marketed 10Mbps down service, but within tolerable limits considering my distance from the office.

Frontier's Speedstream DSL Self-Install Kit

Frontier's Speedstream DSL Self-Install Kit

The Frontier representative that just completed work here was friendly and exceptionally helpful.  He diagnosed some problems with wiring, installed an external DSL filter outside the house, and ran a new wire to segregate the DSL signal from the telephone line.  One of the irritating side effects of DSL is that you can hear the subtle wooshing of the data stream in the background of all of your phone calls, even with the filters installed.  Phone cable traditionally has two pairs of wiring.  The Frontier technician left one pair for the basic phone line, and ran DSL down the other.

Then the moment of truth arrived.  What kind of speeds was my telephone line capable of providing me from Frontier’s DSL service?  After some testing, a very disappointing result: just over 3Mbps download speed could be provided at my location.  That is as good as it is going to get.  The technician himself complained that the call center representatives are wildly optimistic about speeds in the metro Rochester area.  Local technicians that know the area’s network of wiring are far better at predicting speed levels, and my technician was just a shy under what he thought my line could sustain.

Ultimately, that means a service that is 70% less than what was marketed, and I am not even close to being at the far end of acceptable DSL in Rochester – 18,000 feet maximum.

I am going to take a few days to contemplate all of this, but my initial leaning is to dump Frontier DSL and declare it a non-viable option, at least in my circumstance.  No company should expect a customer to be satisfied with a product or service that delivers only about 30% of what it promises, all at regular pricing.  I may lean on them to see if there is some alternative engineering solution to improve speeds, but if that doesn’t happen, I will likely exit Frontier’s data service before the 30 day satisfaction window closes.

Is Frontier Truly a Competitive Alternative for Broadband?

This is a very important question, because Frontier argues they are and Time Warner has never suggested they are the only provider in the area.  But it comes down to how you define “broadband.”  For suburban customers like myself, 3Mbps is honestly not an acceptable amount of speed for broadband service, especially at a price not too lower than what Time Warner charges for Road Runner.  Customers are stuck, because until they install the service, they won’t know what speeds they will ultimately achieve.  Sure it may work for light bandwidth uses, but it’s hardly a good value when the competition offers considerably more (for now at least).

This represents more evidence of the threat of the Broadband Backwater, where the dominant player exercises market power by limiting access, charging enormous overlimit fees, or refusing to upgrade because equal competition does not exist.  I am a textbook case of a customer that, based on my requirements, will have just one company to choose: Time Warner.  DSL cannot meet my needs with 3Mbps service, except perhaps as a backup.  If Time Warner caps usage, then my only true option would be to pay up to triple the price I am charged today for exactly the same service I get today.

The choice in Rochester would be clear: either take the capped and tiered broadband plan from Time Warner and ration your use of it, or go with Frontier for a potentially dramatically slower connection, with no cap for now.  And Frontier cannot match my current Road Runner Turbo service (15Mbps/1Mbps) at all.  It’s a choice consumers in this area should not be forced to make, and would not have to if more advanced services like Verizon FiOS were available here.

In Buffalo and Syracuse, both adjacent to Rochester, your choices include faster Road Runner service at the same price paid in Rochester, plus Verizon FiOS, with speeds as high as 50Mbps/20Mbps, which aren’t available in Rochester period.  Add draconian usage caps in the Flower City, and you might as well move.  Your broadband service sure won’t.

Frontier Pricing (corrected)

Here were the prices I was quoted to build my bundle.  I don’t want the satellite service.

$39.99 — Frontier Unlimited – Unlimited long distance calling over a traditional phone line (no VOIP) with limited phone features.

$3.99 — Enhanced Feature Pack – Adds other phone features (three way calling, call transfer, and a panoply of others)

$39.99 — Frontier DSL – DSL-Max product, which promises “up to” 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload speed

$4.50 — Modem rental fee (I am not sure if you can get this waived if you bring your own modem)

Bundle/Service/Promotional Discounts: $10CR/month for DSL service because it is part of a bundle, $5CR/month for first 12 months, $45CR/one time courtesy credit for messing up my order, Free Frontier CityWide Wi-Fi wireless service (a $9.99 monthly value); Dell mini netbook provided “free” with two year service commitment (you pay $45 shipping and handling fee)

Other Costs: Add local taxes + surcharges, as applicable

When all is said and done, the bill should be in the $85 range.

Currently there are 19 comments on this Article:

  1. Judy Gunter says:

    Horrible situation for Rochesterians to be in. Since Frontier has shown not to be a viable competitior, can we declare that TW is a monopoly and some “force” is needed to get more competition?

  2. Mazakman says:

    Sorry to hear that you are only seeing 3 megs Phil. I know that where I am that I can pull 2.5 to 3 times that speed because of the remote that is nearby. And the upload speed was very nice compared to Roadrunner’s.

    I shall agree that for most broadband customers here in the Rochester area that Frontier is not a viable option.

    I was quoted a price of $39.49 a month for their fastest speed DSL service and that includes the $4.50 a month modem charge and this was the price if I was willing to commit to either a one year or two year contract with them I am still weighing my options. Any cap on RR service would definitely make my mind up for me.

    You mentioned that they gave you a 30 day grace period. I think that if I go with them again that I shall request the same….or no deal.

    • I have specifically also avoided agreeing to the terms and conditions they e-mailed me in my inbox until I could see what results I could get. I just honestly cannot see myself committing that kind of money towards a service with speeds this low.

  3. Smith6612 says:

    Hey Phil, I’m curious about your DSL Line stats and what they look like. Could you visit your modem’s web interface (192.168.254.254), go to the Gateway Health, Statistics and then DSL and then send the sync rate as well as the line stats the SpeedStream reports either in a comment here or via a PM over at DSLReports (I’m Smith6612 at that site as well. You can find me in the Frontier forum over there as well as in the Verizon forum and throughout the Roadrunner forums and others)? Sorry to hear you can’t get anything faster than 3Mbps. My Verizon location can only do 5-7Mbps with ADSL2+ helping it, without it 3Mbps tops, but my Frontier location running ADSL (G.DMT Mode) is within distance of the remote as well as sustaining a good enough SNR to be able to be set at 6Mbps, higher with ADSL2+.

    • I have to go to another computer to grab those stats, but I did overhear I have about 10dB at my location, if that helps any, and that is how they set and locked the modem speed. I am 10,025 feet from the central office. I will try and get numbers back to you soon.

      • Smith6612 says:

        Yup. I’ll have no problem reading those for you and seeing how much more you can pull if anything. For comparison, I’ll give you my line stats on both lines as well as with speed tests.

          • Smith6612 says:

            Well, I can see that your attenuation is quite high, really. With Downstream Attenuation * 250, it suggests your line is more in the length of 13,375 feet long, but yet again it is a ballpark estimate. An SNR of 10 and above is where you want to be. 6-10 is just pushing the line and 6dB and below is no-man’s land so to say, as that’s the point where even though DSL can remain stable and perfectly fine, it’s where there is so much noise something as simple as picking up the phone can kill the line and make it sync lower. But really, unless there is a way to lower line length, that’s as good as you’re going to get. One last thing though, since Rochester does have ADSL2+, could you go back to the page before the DSL Line stats and go to the System Log? Look for the time in which the modem booted up and synced, and see what it says in terms of the DSL stats, such as Line mode at Fast or Interleaved, or if it’s using G.DMT mode or ADSL2/ADSL2+ mode. If you could give me this info as well, I could see if any other changes that Frontier can do on the DSLAM side of the line can boost margins a bit for higher speeds. Probably not likely though considering that high attenuation (I’ve seen 3Mbps with higher attenuation than that before).

            For reference, here’s my Verizon line’s stats. I’ll get my Frontier line’s stats as soon as possible for you to see.

            Transceiver Statistics

            Transceiver Revision: 7.2.3.0
            Vendor ID Code: 4
            Line Mode: G.DMT Mode
            Data Path: Fast

            Transceiver Information Downstream Path Upstream Path
            DSL Speed (Kbits/Sec) 1184 448
            Margin (dB) 23.5 21.0
            Line Attenuation (dB) 44.5 23.0
            Transmit Power (dBm) 5.7 9.5

            Speed Test:

            Last Result:
            Download Speed: 1018 kbps (127.3 KB/sec transfer rate)
            Upload Speed: 384 kbps (48 KB/sec transfer rate)
            Latency: 23ms

            • Smith6612 says:

              Here is my Frontier line.

              http://www.dslreports.com/r0/download/1341711~0e52cfb88127a2e039628881253265b9/stats.PNG

              This is a dated picture back from August of 2008 I have on DSLReports, however I can say that though my speed hasn’t changed, my attenuation has since then dropped to 38.5dB on the downstream, and the downstream margin is currently sitting at 26.5dB on that line as well (VNC is such a wonderful thing, eh?). Here’s a speed test from that line I just ran as well. It is running Fast mode with G.DMT mode. Modem is a SpeedStream 6520.

              Last Result:
              Download Speed: 3201 kbps (400.1 KB/sec transfer rate)
              Upload Speed: 390 kbps (48.8 KB/sec transfer rate)
              Latency: 34ms

            • It looks like:

              Link up 1 US 192 DS 320 (INTL:G.dmt)

              This was probably before they upped the speed and re-locked it.

              • Smith6612 says:

                Probably. Any newer entries with the newer speed up? If it says INTL:G.dmt (Interleaved G.DMT line) still with the new speed, then that’s really the most you can get, unless Frontier would set your line to use ADSL2/ADSL2+, then you’ll have a chance to pull some faster speeds and with that, lower latency by getting switched to Fast Packet mode from Interleaved like my lines are set for (and does the low ping sure feel nice when gaming compared to an interleaved line). Add the fact that if Frontier were to do some messing with the DSLAM, such as railing up the transmit power a little higher (highest I’ve seen any modem go is 19.5dB on the power level for download and upload), that could help out with the margins a bit as well. That’s probably one of the things the sales reps were considering in being crafty with the line.

                But really it seems to be a matter of caps vs. slower speeds vs. reliability as well at this point. Good luck in your decision :)

                • Once I am off the darn laptop, I’ll try and get a bigger log file uploaded. I don’t understand most of it. I’ll have to see what Frontier can do, because I’ll cancel if I am stuck at these speeds. I might even take my phone business to TW, if only that helps prod them to doing something for me.

                  • Smith6612 says:

                    OK. I’ll be sure to check back for a link to the bigger log. I know, slower speeds can be a pain. I’m currently awaiting the soon arrival of FiOS at the Verizon location, and at the Frontier location, I do know for a fact that I have all that Frontier will give in my area for residential customers (business customers get higher speeds in my area, so they do have working higher tiers), but sure, downloads may take a bit longer but since my PC is on 24/7 (the gaming one) it doesn’t bug me at all, even when doing 5GB of downloads a day with game modifications and such.

  4. Elliot Vos says:

    I can confirm that you can bring your own ADSL modem for free.

    Also there’s a Rochester TWC-switcher special you can get which is a 2-year commitment that must be bundled with a phone line and costs $24.99/month for the first 12 months and $34.99 for the second. Oh, and that includes free wi-fi, too. Depending on how I read your discounts (is that $5/month credit just for you), that might be better or worse than what you got.

  5. Mazakman says:

    A friend who is considering a switch to Frontier came up with this site that I had never seen before…

    http://www.connecttofrontier.com/

    When you click on Frontier DSL Internet and view packages and prices that brings you to an page with order now and when you click on that you get finally to a page that has a place for you to enter your home address….

    http://www.connecttofrontier.com/order-now.html?id=549

    After putting in my address and submitting it, I was told that I was eligible for the 10/1 MAX High Speed service and with a 2 year commitment my price would be $34.49 a month and that includes the $4.50 a month modem charge. And the initial charge would be $34.99 ( installation maybe ? ) But then here is the kicker… There is a place to enter your existing Frontier phone number on the order page and it implies that one is required ? Obviously this ordering page is not for stand a lone service and it seems that this site is run by a third party rather than Frontier itself.

    • This is a third party site run out of Houston, TX that resells Frontier services and earns a commission/affiliate revenue for each completed sale. What is remarkable is that Frontier authorizes them (or do they) to offer such a lookalike site using the company name as part of the domain. A lot of companies nix these kinds of deals because consumers become confused about who is actually behind them.

      The company running this one, Whitefence, is no longer a member of the Better Business Bureau. I wouldn’t do business with them generally just because you aren’t getting anything extra.

      I am still trying to link up with “Troy” to either do better for us speedwise, or we’ll be dropping the account.

      • Mazakman says:

        Well IF and when I order Frontier DSL service again, I plan on bringing this site up to them. IF Frontier was willing to cut me a one year commitment deal for $34.49 including the modem charge, then I just might consider going with them. Of course I am also going to let TW know that I am considering switching and see if they offer me anything. IF caps are threatened again, for sure you can color me gone. But I will say also that this site out of Houston looks much better than the regular Frontier site and that it has much more information on it as far as plans and pricing when compared to the local Frontier site.

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