Recent Articles:

Waiting More Than Nine Weeks for Frontier to Repair Broken Landlines in Wisconsin

In Wausau, Wis., one local woman is speaking out about Frontier’s dismal performance as she passes nine weeks without a working landline. Frontier is in no hurry to fix the problem. WAOW-TV reports. (2:24)

Results of Special Audit of Frontier in West Virginia Due Next Month As Thousands of Complaints Pour In

In West Virginia, thousands of complaints are rolling into the Public Service Commission regarding Frontier’s deteriorating phone and internet service. As the problems get worse, an ongoing state audit is documenting problems at Frontier as the state decides what it can do next. WCHS in Charleston reports that many West Virginians have only one choice for phone and internet service. (5:59)

The Better Business Bureau Renews Its “F” Rating for Frontier Communications, Issues Special Alert

Some Frontier customers worry the company’s extended service outages are “a matter of life and death.” WSAW-TV in Wisconsin is one of several media outlets reporting on the problems at Frontier.

The Better Business Bureau recently renewed its “F” rating for Frontier Communications, issuing this special consumer alert along the way:

On October 17, 2019 and November 21, 2019, BBB attempted to contact Frontier Communications Corp. regarding a high volume and pattern of serious complaints. BBB received 11,803 complaints in the past 36 months alleging customer service issues, missing appointments, decline in services previously handled by other providers who Frontier has assumed, billing issues including additional service charges for periods once the consumer has cancelled services. The business failed to respond to one of these complaints and 76 others were not resolved through BBB’s complaint process.

BBB notified Frontier Communications Corp. about the pattern of complaints and asked the business to voluntarily cooperate in eliminating the pattern by providing a written response outlining the specific steps it would implement in order to avoid similar complaints in the future. BBB also requested general information including copies of refund policies, the names & full contact information of the business’ principal officers and responsible management, copies of its promotional and advertising materials, the physical address of its principal office, copies of required competency licensing and a completed BBB Standard Business Questionnaire.

In response to the pattern of complaints, Frontier Communications Corp. provided the following response:

Frontier’s primary value is putting our customers first. Our fiber network and large rural copper network serves more than 4M customers.

Despite these assets and the dedication of nearly 20,000 employees, we have disappointed customers, primarily due to two very large acquisitions. The first in Connecticut with AT&T  and the second in California, Texas and Florida with Verizon. As the BBB points out, many of the 11K (as of December 2019) complaints made on this platform resulted from the transition of services in those two transactions.  We have worked diligently to address the issues raised and restore credibility. Issues related to those transactions have been resolved.

We have a new President and CEO who is a true champion of customer satisfaction, and in just a few weeks he has crisscrossed the country to hammer home the need for accountability and reliability and flawless customer service. We need to keep things simple and deliver on our commitments.

Some improvements include updated our website to include more information about how to resolve concerns and whom to contact. Frontier has invested in product and operational innovations that are driving more improvements in our service. Our internal resolution task force continues to remain engaged, reviewing customer service processes and acting on lessons learned to become better guides for, and providers of service to our customers and communities.

Special Report: Multiple States Dealing With Dangerous Outages at Frontier Communications

Frontier’s office in Charleston, W.V.

Conditions within many Frontier Communications service areas are in a state of dangerous disrepair, with a growing number of disruptions to 911 services and a long wait for urgent repairs of Frontier’s deteriorating landline network that can now take over a month.

A growing number of states are documenting unprecedented service problems at Frontier Communications, the independent phone company providing phone and internet services to homes and businesses in 29 states. News reports predict that the company will be in bankruptcy court as early as March, hoping to discharge or refinance its staggering debts. But until then, some Frontier customers have been unable to reach 911 or rely on their rural landline service for remote medical monitoring, potentially putting their lives at risk.

One of the latest states to report serious deficiencies with Frontier’s service is Wisconsin. At a Dec. 20 public meeting in Mondovi to discuss the quality of service at Frontier, the city administrator heard harrowing tales of rural Wisconsin residents who frantically tried to call 911 and got nothing but a strange busy signal.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that after Mike Wright’s shed collapsed on him under the weight of multiple feet of snow, his wife’s attempts to reach 911 from their Mondovi home failed again and again. A Frontier technician later admitted 911 was out of service for about eight hours that day. Frontier apparently did not notify customers or the media about the outage.

James Rud, a volunteer firefighter and the town’s street superintendent, told the meeting that was not an unusual situation. A few years earlier, a local dentist’s office repeatedly tried to reach 911 after a disabled girl choked on a piece of dental equipment. There was no answer.

“Everybody’s frantic because they’ve called five times and got a busy signal on 911,” Rud told the meeting, noting that when people call 911 and “nobody picks up, your anxiety level goes from a bad situation to a (really) bad situation.”

That day, 911 operators were waiting to take emergency calls. The calls failed to connect because of network problems at Frontier. Based on a review of state regulator complaints, the problems are growing in size and scope across multiple states served by Frontier. In Wisconsin alone, at least 93 serious complaints were filed with the state’s telecom regulator. The Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection received 405 pages of complaints between January 2019 through January 2020, mostly about poor quality phone and internet service in rural Wisconsin and very long wait times for often ineffective repairs. One complaint from Barneveld even included a physician’s letter emphasizing the urgent need for reliable landline service for a patient in poor medical condition.

There are indications Frontier satisfactorily handled some complaints… eventually, but many customers had to take extraordinary action to get the phone company’s attention about problems the company allegedly ignored for months.

One complainant turned out to be Marathon County IT director Gerald Klein, responsible for maintaining the county’s 911 system. He couldn’t get Frontier to respond to him either, eventually reaching out to Wisconsin state officials as a last resort. Klein complained Frontier was unresponsive “for months” to his county’s request to upgrade a crucial trunk line necessary to activate a new and improved 911 system. He had no idea who to appeal to next.

“Our 911 system is maintained by Frontier but the equipment is long since past end‐of‐life,” Klein wrote in a letter to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Dec. 27. “Can I file a complaint with the Wisconsin PSC or can you give me other advice on how to get Frontier’s attention? Is this something that should be given to the FCC?”

Lane

In West Virginia, perhaps the epicenter of Frontier’s epic problems, Public Service Commission chairperson Charlotte Lane, a former Kanawha County delegate, considers Frontier’s performance in her state to be unacceptable.

“Frontier has over 300,000 customers in our state,” Lane said, noting that for many West Virginians Frontier is their sole provider. “In 2019, we received nearly 2,000 complaints from Frontier customers about the company’s phone and internet service. We spend a lot of time responding to these complaints.”

Other media reports count the number of complaints regarding Frontier exceeding 4,000 “over the last couple of years.”

Lane is especially worried about the growing number of 911 outage incidents reported across West Virginia. There were at least a half-dozen high profile outages in 2019 that attracted media attention and scrutiny from local, county, and state legislators.

In July 2019, the PSC commissioned Schumaker and Company to perform an extensive management audit of Frontier Communications. Lane said the audit was critical because Frontier’s performance has been questionable since the company acquired Verizon Communications-owned landlines in the state back in 2010. Lane said Frontier has been cutting staff and maintenance workers in the state, but wanted a definitive report on the company so the PSC can intelligently oversee Frontier’s performance. That report is due to be released on March 19.

West Virginia “has a lot of power and we will exercise it,” Lane said.

The same may not be true in Wisconsin, where a well-funded deregulation campaign by AT&T and other phone companies in Wisconsin won bipartisan favor in 2011, with the full endorsement of then Gov. Scott Walker. One Republican state senator even promised that the new law would result in more than 50,000 new jobs and inspire telecom companies to invest in the state. In fact, AT&T, Frontier, and other phone companies have cut jobs over the last nine years and Frontier has invested little in upgrading its Wisconsin network to more reliable fiber optic technology. Telecom companies also claim deregulation frees them from having to deliver traditional copper-based landline service where most people are now using cell phones, and consumers can always exercise their choice by switching from a disappointing phone company to the local cable operator.

But rural residents in Wisconsin complain they often do not have the option of switching to cell phone or cable service, because there is no reliable cell coverage or local cable operator in many of the areas Frontier services. That has left them vulnerable to the consequences of ending universal landline service and a telecom industry that is investing in upgrades almost exclusively in urban areas.

Even Frontier officials now admit serving rural areas is becoming an unsustainable proposition for the phone company.

A statement from Frontier’s Javier Mendoza.

“Frontier serves only about ten percent of the state voice lines in its service area—and falling—but has 100 percent of the universal service obligation to serve the most rural and high-cost areas,” Frontier spokesperson Javier Mendoza said in a statement about its business in West Virginia in July 2019. “Our customer base continues to decline, while the cost of service per line has increased dramatically. This has resulted in an unsustainable model for providing service in rural and high-cost areas, manifesting in increased numbers of service complaints. We plan to reach out to the state’s leaders to collaboratively find solutions to this difficult challenge.”

West Virginia’s Public Service Commission is undertaking a comprehensive audit of Frontier Communications.

Deregulation in states like Wisconsin has allowed Frontier to escape some of the harsher consequences from regulators held responsible for ensuring customers have reliable access to basic phone service. That leaves many rural customers vulnerable to whatever goodwill exists at private telecommunications companies to continue offering service.

Observers suggest Chapter 11 bankruptcy will allow Frontier to shed its punishing level of debt many believe is responsible for Frontier’s ongoing lack of investment in network upgrades. But others believe Frontier is more likely to seek a sale of its rural service areas to focus on its more profitable urban service areas, especially in California, Texas, and Florida. Frontier has already announced a sale of its landline network in the Pacific Northwest to a regional telecommunications company promising to scrap much of Frontier’s copper wire infrastructure in favor of fiber optics.

In the meantime, problems at Frontier’s operations are ongoing. Last week, a “massive phone outage” in Cabell County, W.V. took down phone service across large parts of the county.

Earlier this month, Frontier officials were called to a meeting to address complaints about poor service in Tennessee. In attendance were Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster, Crossville City Mayor James Mayberry, Senator Paul Bailey and U.S. Representative John Rose. The complaints were called “severe” by the public officials and dangerous to public safety.

“Frontier officials appeared to have no definitive answer to the complaints,” reported 3B Media.

Plumas County, Calif. officials are alarmed about reports of Frontier’s possible bankruptcy. District 2 Supervisor Kevin Goss said he is a Frontier customer that has experienced firsthand the issues he says all Indian Valley residents experience: paying for high speeds and experiencing low speeds in return. Goss said Frontier’s broadband service often works only intermittently for a few hours at a time. Incoming residents often cannot subscribe to broadband service at all, after Frontier allegedly placed a moratorium on adding new DSL customers in the area in 2018. Koss claims he has seen no evidence Frontier plans to invest in service expansion and the DSL moratorium remains in place two years later.

In Minnesota, the state’s Public Utility Commission recently reached a settlement with Frontier over its poor quality landline and broadband service, particularly in rural areas. But now the Minnesota Department of Commerce is launching a new investigation focusing on Frontier’s billing and customer service practices.

“We are concerned about Frontier’s practices when customers are signing up for service and the prospect that Minnesotans are being overcharged for their phone service,” said Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley.

A broken Frontier telephone pole. (Left) Frontier phone cables left stretched against a tree (Right) Images: PUCO

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has just launched another investigation into Frontier Communications, focusing on the company’s billing and customer service practices. The primary issues under investigation include whether Frontier failed to inform customers of their service options and whether Frontier enrolled customers in long distance service plans that customers did not want or use.

“We are concerned about Frontier’s practices when customers are signing up for service and the prospect that Minnesotans are being overcharged for their phone service,” said Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley.

In Ohio, state regulators are tangling with Frontier over network and infrastructure upkeep practices. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is taking issue with Frontier’s attempts to ‘pass the buck’ on pole and infrastructure maintenance. Patricia Binkiewicz says her family is collateral damage in that battle, after her husband’s car was struck by a falling branch hanging over Route 43 in Carroll County — a branch Frontier should have dealt with over a year ago.

“If you drive, especially around here, you’re going to see these trees hanging over lines and they don’t realize no one is claiming responsibility, accountability, any liability or damages if a tree should fall down,” Binkiewicz said. Attempts to have Frontier Communications deal with overgrown trees and brush fell on deaf ears. The company claimed that was the responsibility of ODOT. No so fast, ODOT responds.

A Frontier installer draped a new line across this customer’s residential propane tank, and then left. (Image courtesy: Mark Steil, MPR News)

“Utilities that run in the state’s right of way are to be maintained by the utility company,” ODOT spokesperson Lauren Borell said. “So, what that means is if there’re trees there, the utility company is responsible for those trees.”

When the story made the local news, ODOT removed the offending tree, but there is no word how many other trees represent accidents waiting to happen. Local officials claim Frontier has shown a lack of interest in investment.

That lack of investment is also apparent in the state of Utah, where the Utah Public Service Commission is continuing its investigation into Frontier Communications as a result of complaints from Castle Valley and the nearby area that the company failed to provide reliable service to customers. Julie Price, a spokesperson for Utah’s Division of Public Utilities, said her agency is concerned about the “company’s level of investment in Utah.”

The consequences of deregulation of phone service in rural areas dependent on landlines may eventually include unnecessary deaths from an inability to reach emergency services due to a service outage or network problem. Observers note that cell phone service remains spotty, especially indoors, in large sections of rural America. Some wireless carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint barely provide any direct coverage in states like West Virginia, and AT&T and Verizon offer solid service primarily in larger cities.

It remains unlikely rural cell service will ever be ubiquitous in many rural areas, because there will not be enough customers to make such investments profitable. Instead, for over a century consumers have traditionally relied on universally available landline telephone service. But as deregulation efforts weaken or eliminate universal service requirements, local phone companies may eventually cease offering landline service. AT&T is already experimenting with eliminating legacy phone lines in favor of wireless service, with mixed results. An effort by Verizon to replace deteriorating rural landlines with a wireless landline replacement proved unpopular and unreliable.

What compelled local phone companies to provide universal, high quality landline service for decades was strong regulatory enforcement with stiff fines for non-compliance. Repairs were expected to be made in most cases within a day or two, not four to nine weeks. Public safety from overgrown trees and brush near telephone company-owned utility poles is also a growing and relatively recent problem. In some cases, deregulation has left regulators unable to police the condition of utility poles that present a safety risk, and that task has now fallen on local media that can embarrass a company into fixing problems.

Public policy advocates recommend Frontier be held accountable for the quality of their service and states should strongly consider rolling back deregulation, especially in rural areas.

Altice Convinces Judge to Throw Out N.J. Regulator’s Demand for Pro-Rated Cablevision Refunds

Phillip Dampier February 4, 2020 Altice USA, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

A federal judge has blocked an effort to force Altice USA (doing business as Cablevision/Optimum) to issue pro-rated refunds to New Jersey consumers that cancel cable service in the middle of a billing period.

U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti found in favor of Altice, blocking an order by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) demanding Altice stop its practice of not issuing partial refunds to departing customers and issue refunds to those that have already canceled service under the new “no refunds” policy.

Altice adopted its “no refunds” policy shortly after closing on its acquisition of Cablevision and Suddenlink, impacting customers in 21 states:

Cablevision: Effective October 10, 2016, service cancellations become effective on the last day of the then-current billing period. Optimum services remain available to you for the full billing period and there are no partial credits or refunds of monthly charges already billed.

Suddenlink: Your monthly subscription begins either on or the first day following your installation date and automatically renews thereafter on a monthly basis beginning on the first day of the next billing period assigned to you until cancelled by you. The monthly service charge(s) will be billed at the beginning of your assigned billing period and each month thereafter unless and until you cancel your Service(s). PAYMENTS ARE NONREFUNDABLE AND THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR CREDITS FOR PARTIALLY USED SUBSCRIPTION PERIODS.

Judge Martinotti

The controversial policy met with immediate objections from subscribers, some who complained to New Jersey’s telecommunications regulator and others that filed a class action lawsuit against the company in New York. In December 2018, the BPU found that Altice violated New Jersey state law by not offering prorated refunds for customers. It ordered Altice to cease the practice and issue suitable refunds to customers impacted by the new policy.

Altice argued that federal law specifically prohibits state regulators from getting involved in regulating cable service or pricing where effective competition exists and claimed it would cost at least $5 million to modify its billing software to automatically issue refunds.

Judge Martinotti was persuaded by Altice’s arguments, noting the BPU had previously granted Cablevision’s old owners a waiver for pro-rating in 2011 and that Cablevision customers in New Jersey have other competitive options, which strips the BPU of its regulatory authority over Altice’s rates.

“BPU’s order requiring Altice to prorate customer bills based on the exact dates of service constitutes rate regulation,” the judge’s order said. “Accordingly, the Cable Act preempts BPU’s order and Altice possesses a reasonable probability of success in the eventual litigation.”

The BPU had no immediate comment on how it plans to proceed in response to the judge’s ruling.

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  • Ken: I've started a Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/xFinityDataUsage/, to try and fight back. There's no reasonable explanation for the dat...
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  • John C. Hall: What you say is still true, in 2020. Our home phone service is very high and they offer only 1 home phone package. To drop the home phone line and k...
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  • Phillip Dampier: The thing about this policy change is that it appeared as a cryptic bill notice buried on a single invoice mixed in with lots of other notices. Most p...
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  • Phillip Dampier: You may live in a state where pro-rating is mandatory. Also, you transferred your account, which means it remained open, only the accountholder's name...
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