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Nevada’s Attorney General Finds Frontier Internet Lacking, Wins Refunds and Upgrades

Frontier residential customers in Nevada could receive a refund and improved service after a court filing from the Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) found Frontier’s internet services lacking.

Since 2017, BCP has collected scores of complaints about Frontier’s internet service and its performance, mostly regarding slow service, frequent outages, and ongoing billing problems.

The BCP found Frontier liable under NRS Chapter 598 which forbids providers from misleading consumers about internet speed and service performance in marketing and advertising. An Assurance of Discontinuance filed with the court allowed Frontier to settle while avoiding admitting any wrongdoing and agreeing to correct service deficiencies.

The state found Frontier repeatedly did not disclose limitations of broadband service availability and knowingly marketed its DSL service at speeds the company could not provide customers.

According to the court document:

  • Frontier is required to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose in its print and broadcast advertising the actual internet speeds available to customers in terms of minimum and maximum speed.
  • Customers that sign up for a high-speed plan that Frontier cannot provide may switch to a lower speed plan or discontinue service incurring no penalties or early cancellation fees.
  • Existing customers that do not receive at least 90% of the highest speed their current plan advertises will receive a service credit of 50% of the internet charge for each month Frontier did not provide such speed. Credits will begin in 2020 and end three years after the date the court accepts the Assurance.
  • Frontier has also agreed to invest at least $1 million to improve internet service in Elko County.

Frontier Urgently Trying to Restructure $17 Billion Debt as Chapter 11 Looms

Frontier Communications is preparing a detailed plan for bondholders explaining how the company hopes to cut its $17 billion in debt before it faces the possibility of bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports Frontier is ready to begin formal negotiations with those holding its debt to create a new payback plan before it faces the first of several repayment deadlines for bonds running into the billions, starting in 2022. But the strategy is risky because if any of the company’s major bondholders disagree, it could put Frontier on a fast track to Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Frontier’s debt problems are a consequence of its decision to expand its wireline footprint through acquisitions of castoff copper landline networks being sold primarily by Verizon Communications and AT&T. Critics have repeatedly called out Frontier for bungling network transitions with extended service outages, billing problems, and other customer service-related failures that left customers and some state regulators frustrated and alienated. The company is still facing regulatory review in states like Connecticut, where it failed to properly manage a customer cutover from AT&T’s systems to its own, and in Utah, West Virginia, California, and Florida where similar cutovers from Verizon Communications left more than a few customers without service and months of billing problems.

As a result, Frontier lost many of the customers it acquired, with many unwilling to consider doing business with the phone company ever again.

Although Frontier’s latest acquisitions of Verizon landline customers in California, Texas, and Florida included large Verizon FiOS fiber to the home territories, Frontier customers continue to disconnect service at a greater pace than the phone company’s chief cable competitors — Comcast and Charter Spectrum. Customer defections are even worse in large sections of Frontier’s stagnant “legacy” markets — service areas that have been managed by Frontier or its predecessor Citizens Communications for decades. That is because almost all of those legacy markets are still serviced by decades-old copper wire networks, many capable only of providing low speed DSL internet access.

Frontier’s large debt load is cited as the principal reason the company cannot embark on upgrade efforts to replace existing copper wiring with optical fiber. In fact, virtually all of Frontier’s fiber service areas have been acquired from AT&T or Verizon. Frontier executives have attempted to placate shareholders by promising to aggressively manage costs. But promises of dramatic savings have proved elusive and frequent media reports have emerged covering extensive service outages, poor network maintenance, ongoing billing and customer service issues, and inadequate staffing to address a growing number of service outages and problems. In several states, repeated 911 outages have triggered regulator investigations with the prospect of stiff fines.

Three Frontier insiders have privately shared their insights with Stop the Cap! about ongoing frustrations with the company and the most recent developments.

“Upper management has no comprehension that in many of our markets, customers have choices and they abandon us when all we can sell is DSL service at speeds often less than 12 Mbps,” one senior regional executive told us. “Our retention efforts are so poor these days, representatives are not really expected to rescue accounts because in most cases there is no legitimate reason to do business with us. In some states where there are high mandated surcharges, we cost more than our cable competitors.”

Another mid-level executive in one of Frontier’s largest legacy markets — Rochester, N.Y., said morale is low and a growing number of colleagues believe the days to bankruptcy are short.

Frontier Communications debt load.

“Our loyal customers are literally dying off, as their adult children disconnect decades-old landline accounts,” said an executive who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak with the media. “The customer numbers have been ugly for a long time and are getting worse. Our recently retired customers who have had DSL and voice service with us since the 1990s are disconnecting because some have gone with Spectrum and others are moving out of the area. Some of these customers hate Spectrum and won’t do business with them no matter the price, but we are losing their business anyway when they move out of state.”

The Rochester executive noted Frontier has an impossible job trying to sell its internet and voice products against Charter Spectrum.

“Their offers are $40 a month for 100 Mbps internet and $10 for unlimited local and long-distance calls,” the executive noted. “Ours costs nearly $30 just for the phone line after taxes and fees, and how can you sell someone DSL that delivers less than 6 Mbps to many parts of a market still served by copper trunk lines to a central office several miles away? They also find out they have to lease our modem at an additional fee and there are other fees in the contract many customers have learned to look for. Answer: you can’t.”

A Frontier executive in Ohio shared a similar story.

“We hold our own in our rural markets where we can offer a customer better than dial-up internet, and our service is very good if you live in an area where we expanded broadband thanks to FCC subsidies. Some of these new areas are even served by fiber,” the executive explained. “The problem with this is fewer people live in rural areas and these places cost a lot more to maintain when we dispatch service crews or have to run new cable. For Frontier to be truly successful, we have to get better internet service into our larger older markets, but that means pulling copper off poles and putting up fiber and there is just no interest from the higher ups to spend the money to do this. So instead the company bought new territories to keep revenue numbers up, but we are also quickly losing many of those customers to cable too. I really don’t know what we will do when wireless companies offer 5G internet.”

Some Frontier bondholders recognize Frontier must reduce its debt to have the financial resources to expand fiber service. Others want the company to shed its legacy copper service areas (while keeping FiOS/U-verse enabled markets) either to regional companies willing to invest in upgrades or to hedge funds that would likely ring whatever remaining value still exists out of these abandoned service areas. Some suspect these hedge funds would also load up the spinoff companies with even greater debt to facilitate dividend payouts and other investor-friendly rewards.

It will be up to state and federal regulators to protect Frontier’s customers as the two emerging groups of conflicting bondholders angle to protect their investments, perhaps at the risk of reliable phone and internet service.

The Wall Street Journal:

One, including Elliott Management and Franklin Resources, pushed for an exchange of their bonds at a discount to their face value for new secured debt that would be paid before unsecured debt in a potential bankruptcy.

Still, bondholders including GoldenTree Asset Management have warned the company against doing such a swap since 2018, arguing it violated the terms of their bonds.

The company this week reached out to Houlihan Lokey, which represents a group of bondholders that includes GoldenTree—as well as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Oaktree Capital Management and Brigade Capital Management—to sign up to view a confidential restructuring proposal, a person familiar with the matter said. That group has yet to gather enough holders to form a majority, people familiar with the matter said.

Frontier Wrestles Worst ISP in America Award Away from Mediacom

“Frontier offers a level of suckage that cannot be proportionally compared with any other company in America. Stabbing yourself with knitting needles is less painful than their snail slow internet service and dealing with customer service agents that formerly served as prison guards at a Syrian detention camp.” — A deeply dissatisfied Frontier DSL customer in Ohio

Frontier Communications has achieved a new low in customer satisfaction, wrestling away the award for America’s worst ISP from perennial favorite Mediacom, in a newly released American Customer Satisfaction Index.

No internet service provider did particularly well in customer satisfaction, but Frontier managed to alienate more of their customers than any other this year, ranking poorly in speed, reliability, and customer service. Customers also complained about being given inaccurate information, inaccurate billing, and surprise charges on their bill.

Frontier’s worst performance is delivered in legacy DSL service areas, where its aging copper wire network is often incapable of delivering 21st century broadband speeds. In many areas, speeds drop well below 10 Mbps during peak usage. Even worse, company officials signaled that the company had few plans to improve its wireline network or service experience in 2019. As a result, many customers switched providers, if one was available. If Frontier is the only option, customers often have no options.

“For several years we have had no internet options except for Frontier. We receive 10 to 20% of the service we pay for time and time again,” wrote one customer in a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. “The service has even diminished over time, [and] whenever my work demands me to log online, I often have to leave my home at different times of the day or night to a location where I can get free Wi-Fi or drive 24 miles to my job. This is totally unacceptable. Every single weekend and every night my internet shuts off. I mean every night. Nothing has been done from a customer’s view to improve service.”

What seems to have driven Mediacom out of last place was not so much an improvement in their network or service.

“Mediacom has the second-lowest score among subscription TV services at 56, but has one of the highest-rated mobile apps, both in terms of quality and reliability,” the ACSI found.

Frontier has an improved website, but still offers many potential subscribers a severe disappointment when shopping for internet plans, and finding only one:

Irony Dept.: Frontier Paying $1,000 to Someone Willing to Live With Obsolete Flip-Phone for a Week

Frontier Communications will pay one smartphone addict $1,000 if they will give up their device for one week and rely on a 1990s-era obsolete flip phone instead. The cringe worthy challenge, soaked in irony, is brought to you by a phone company that delivers late 1990s-era DSL to a substantial number of its customers.

Frontier:

If you’re chosen, you’ll be responsible for using a flip phone in place of your smartphone for seven full days (that’s 168 hours!), and we want you to log your experience. We’ll have you track (don’t worry, your info stays safe with us!) how long it takes you to do basic tasks such as texting and checking email, how many times you wish you could Google something, how many hours you slept, how your productivity changed (or didn’t!), and even if you were late to appointments (after all, how does anyone get around without Google Maps?). Was your experience #TheWorstThingEver? Did you find new freedom? Either way, we want to hear about it.

Applicants can register until July 8, 2019. 

What’s in it for you

$1,000 in compensation

Boredom Buster Swag Bag (i.e. your survival kit) including:

  • An actual, physical map (yes, those still exist!) to make up for your GPS.
  • A pocket phonebook, because who memorizes numbers anymore?
  • A notepad and pen to make grocery trips a little less painful.
  • A couple ’90s CDs (think Britney and NSYNC) to soothe your Spotify withdrawals.
  • Remote work environment as you earn your $1,000—no heading to an office at 8am for this job!
  • No drug testing or background check required.
  • A unique social experiment and a chance to go back in time . . . or, well, something like that.

The goal of the experiment is “to help us understand how much we rely on smartphones and how that affects day-to-day life. (Our hypothesis? A lot.)”

It is too bad Frontier didn’t embark on an experiment to determine how much customers rely on high quality, 21st century internet access. They could quickly learn that for many of those stuck with Frontier’s DSL service… they can’t, because Frontier does not provide it.

Bronx, Monroe Counties Among the Worst in New York for Urban Broadband Users

Broadband service is available to 99.1% of the Bronx and 99.8% of the Rochester and its suburbs, but just 38.5% of Bronx residents are using the internet at broadband speeds (at least 25/3 Mbps) and only 54% of Monroe County residents are receiving a true broadband experience.

These two New York communities, one in the dense New York City area, the other straddling the Finger Lakes region and Western New York, are examples of the FCC’s vast over-count of consumers getting suitable broadband service and speed, according to Microsoft. The problem is much worse in rural areas where DSL speeds predominate and providers like Verizon and Frontier are in no hurry to upgrade their rural networks.

“These significant discrepancies across nearly all counties in all 50 states indicates there is a problem with the accuracy of the access data reported by the FCC,” Microsoft said about its findings. “Additional data sources like ours, as well as work by others to examine data in a few states or regions, are important to understanding the problem.”

Microsoft’s performance data is not alone representative of a local cable company not delivering advertised speeds. For example, in the Bronx, affordability issues mean that more residents rely on their cell phones and mobile connectivity for internet access. In Rochester, where true broadband speeds usually cost $50-65 a month depending on the provider, affordability is also a factor. But there is also the presence of local telephone company Frontier Communications, which has saddled Rochester with inferior DSL service it has no concrete plans to upgrade. Frontier DSL usually offers substandard speed of 12 Mbps or much less, making its customers part of Microsoft’s estimation of those underserved.

Schumer

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained about the state of broadband in New York, claiming internet speeds are “horrible” in much of the state and broadband providers are not being honest about advertised speed.

“When there’s slow internet, it drives you crazy​.​ ​You just sit and wait and wait and wait. It’s horrible,” Schumer said at a news conference held Sunday in Manhattan. “There’s a new report out that says our internet here in New York may​ ​be moving more like molasses than like lightning.”

Schumer is taking direct aim at the recent positive report from the FCC that broadband has dramatically improved in the United States, a conclusion the Republicans serving at the FCC took credit for, explaining policies of deregulation and elimination of net neutrality spurred private investment and better internet service for all.

“But Microsoft did its own report, and it shows that over four and a half million New Yorkers and Long Islanders are not getting the speed on the internet that the carriers say they’re getting​, [and] that’s a real problem,” Schumer argued, adding that most consumers are not getting consistent access to at least 25/3 Mbps service. “It’s like paying for the speed of a car but getting the speed of a bicycle.”

Schumer wants the FCC to hold providers to account for their broadband speed and performance. But last week, the FCC had other ideas, delaying broadband performance testing requirements until 2020 for internet service providers receiving taxpayer or ratepayer funds to build out their networks.

“T​he FCC is falling down on the job,” Schumer said. “I don’t think it’s nefarious but the providers, to upgrade to the required speed​,​ would have to pay for more equipment. They should. We’re all paying big bills for that.”

 

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