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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.

Cable One: A Regime of High Prices and Data Caps

Cable One has the highest average revenue per customer of any publicly traded cable company in the United States, with the average customer paying Cable One $70.80 a month, mostly for internet access.

The company’s first quarter earnings growth of 5.5% reflect the company’s recent price increases and regime of low-allowance data caps, which have pushed 10 percent of its customers to pay an extra $40 a month to bring back unlimited access. Others are upgrading to costlier, faster tiers with more generous usage allowances.

“During the first quarter, we saw roughly 50% of our new customers choose our 200 Mbps or higher speed service and nearly 10% of our new customers opted to purchase our unlimited data plan,” said Julia Laulis, Cable One CEO.

Laulis

Cable One’s 200 Mbps plan (with a 600 GB data cap) costs $65 a month after promotions expire. A DOCSIS 3.0 modem lease fee of $10.50 applies. A $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge may apply. If a customer wants unlimited access to avoid overlimit fees, there is an additional charge of $40 a month (a 5 TB cap applies to the “unlimited plan”). Customers choosing a 200 Mbps broadband-only package with unlimited data will pay up to $118.25 a month.

Cable One’s broadband customers are concerned about staying within the data caps to avoid overlimit fees. While Comcast and Charter Spectrum customers consume over 300-400 GB of data per month (Comcast has a 1 TB cap, Spectrum only sells unlimited service), Cable One customers use an average of 290 GB, with usage growing at a 30-35% annual rate. Many Cable One customers have little choice either. Laulis noted that Cable One’s DSL competition is not very relevant when customers want to watch streaming video. Speeds are often so slow, customers do not have a good experience streaming HD video over DSL.

 

Cable One is also shedding its video customers in record numbers, with just 305,000 of its cable TV customers left. More than 29,000 departed year over year, and that number continues to rise as consumers rebel against the company’s high prices and unwillingness to negotiate.

MoffettNathanson warned that Cable One’s high pricing may eventually price itself out of broadband growth, as consumers elect to sign up with telephone companies instead. But many of its service areas are still served by low-speed DSL, and despite Cable One’s high cost, the company added 10,600 new internet customers in the last quarter.

In addition to raising prices, the company also plans to spend between $9-11 million to change its name from Cable One to Sparklight over the next two years.

CenturyLink Considering Dumping Its Consumer Landline/Broadband Services

CenturyLink is considering getting out of the consumer landline and broadband business and instead focusing on its profitable corporate-targeted enterprise and wholesale businesses.

CenturyLink CEO Jeff Storey told investors on a quarterly conference call that the phone company had hired advisors that will conduct a strategic review of all CenturyLink products and services targeting the consumer market and is “very open” to the possibility to selling or spinning off its residential business, assuming it can find an interested buyer.

“Let me be clear, we’re early in what I expect to be a lengthy and complex process,” Storey told investors, noting the company’s first priority is to take care of its shareholders. “During our review, we will not modify our normal operations or our investment patterns. I can’t predict the outcome or the timing of this work or if any transactions will come from it at all. Our focus, though, is value maximization for shareholders. If there are better paths to create more value with these assets, we will pursue them.”

CenturyLink’s landline network is similar to those of other independent telephone companies. There are significant markets where extensive upgrades have introduced fiber broadband service and high-speed DSL, but most of CenturyLink’s network remains reliant on copper wire infrastructure that is not capable of supplying high speed internet to customers.

Like most large independent telephone companies, the majority of CenturyLink’s residential customers can only purchase slow speed DSL service offering less than 20 Mbps. A growing number of customers have canceled service after running out of patience waiting for upgrades. CenturyLink executives told investors last week the company is abandoning investments in bonded or vectored DSL upgrades, claiming anything other than fiber optics is not “competitive infrastructure.”

CenturyLink also admitted it is losing customers after deciding to shelve its unprofitable, competing Prism TV product. The only growth on the consumer side of CenturyLink is coming from significant broadband upgrades.

“In the first quarter, we saw a net loss of 6,000 total broadband subscribers. This quarter’s total was made up of declines of 83,000 in speeds below 20 Mbps and growth of 77,000 in speeds of 20 Mbps and above,” reported CenturyLink chief financial officer Neel Dev. “Within those gains, we added 47,000 in speeds of 100 Mbps and above. Voice revenue declined 12% this quarter. Going forward, we expect similar declines in voice revenue. As a reminder, the decline in other revenue was driven by our decision to de-emphasize our linear video product.”

Dev reported that 55% of CenturyLink’s customers have access to speeds of 20 Mbps or less, and the company has ceased spending marketing dollars advertising slow speed DSL. Instead, it “microtargets” service areas where customers can sign up for service faster than 20 Mbps.

Observers note CenturyLink’s interest in its landline business has been waning for some time. The change in attitude can be traced back to CenturyLink’s merger with Level 3, a very profitable provider of connectivity to the enterprise and wholesale markets. CenturyLink’s commercial services are consistently earning most of the revenue the company reports to shareholders every quarter, with residential services declining in importance.

A sale of CenturyLink’s local landline and consumer-focused internet businesses could be hampered because of the likely lack of buyers. Frontier Communications had been an aggressive player in acquiring landline networks cast off by Verizon and AT&T, but that company is now in financial trouble and faces major debt issues. It would be an unlikely bidder. Windstream is still in bankruptcy reorganization and an acquisition is out of the question. Smaller independent phone companies like Consolidated Communications (owner of former FairPoint Communications), also likely lack financing to achieve such a deal, especially as interest rates continue to rise. CenturyLink also has the option of spinning off its residential business into a new corporate entity, but would likely result in a financially hobbled enterprise that may have trouble attracting capital to continue funding further expansion.

Frontier: Forget About DSL Upgrades in 2019; Live With What You’ve Got

Frontier Communications has no plans to upgrade most of their legacy copper DSL internet customers this year, leaving customers in many markets stuck at speeds as low as 1-3 Mbps.

Frontier CEO Dan McCarthy told analysts in a late afternoon conference call Tuesday that around one million homes have access to Frontier’s 100 Mbps DSL service, and six million can sign up for DSL at or above 25 Mbps. McCarthy considers those customers valuable targets for marketing campaigns because most are not Frontier customers. For the rest of Frontier’s legacy copper areas that cannot access those speeds, Frontier will have little to offer in 2019.

“I don’t think you’re going to see us do a lot of significant copper upgrades this year,” McCarthy admitted. “Our big focus is really future proofing kind of the [California, Texas, and Florida] fiber markets. So, we’re spending the money to upgrade th[ose markets] to 10 Gbps capability.”

Frontier reported another quarter of poor results late yesterday, widely missing analyst expectations. Frontier’s share price lost 26.8% of its value overnight in heavy trading. Over the last 12 months, Frontier’s share price has dropped by 77%.

Analysts remain deeply concerned about Frontier’s customer defections, which have persisted for several years and show no signs of ending. Even more daunting, Frontier’s high debt levels are still a problem. A major tranche of Frontier’s debt comes due for repayment in 2022, and there are concerns Frontier may not be able to cover it, which could force the company into bankruptcy. In February, Bloomberg News ranked Frontier No. 1 on the list of deeply distressed debt issuers in North America.

While cable companies can count on quarterly boosts in the number of customers signing up for broadband, Frontier shareholders have become accustomed to reading about subscriber losses. The company lost 38,000 broadband subscribers in the last quarter, including in its fiber to the home markets. Most of Frontier’s losses are Charter Spectrum and Comcast’s gains. Frontier also reported landline and video customer losses.

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