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Frontier is Experiencing Multiple Service Outages in Western New York Today

Phillip Dampier August 14, 2019 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

Some Frontier Communications customers in Rochester were left without service early today in a “widespread” outage that impacted local governments, commercial customers, and medical care facilities.

Medical facilities are relying on backup plans to maintain communications after service failed this morning, just days after the New York Public Service Commission warned Frontier Communications it must improve service after receiving a growing number of service complaints impacting service across the state.

The outage is just the latest in a growing series of outages that have left some customers without service for as long as five weeks. Last week, state regulators released results of their 2018 survey on the service quality of telephone companies serving New York and found service from four Frontier-owned affiliates lacking:

  • Citizens Telecommunications Company of New York, Inc. (Citizens)
  • Frontier Telephone of Rochester, Inc. (Frontier Rochester)
  • Frontier Communications of New York, Inc. (Frontier New York)
  • Frontier Communications of Ausable Valley, Inc. (Ausable Valley)

“The rate of consumer complaints received by the Department of Public Service (PSC Complaints) has significantly increased in the last several years for these companies,” the PSC report concludes. “In addition, a review of company-provided initial data shows poor performance regarding repair duration for customers who lose service. Further, Staff has received an increasing number of complaints from local, county, and State government representatives and officials from first-responder organizations regarding network reliability and timeliness of repairs in the service areas of these companies.”

Frontier was a clear standout among problematic service providers serving New York. The company currently serves 221,000 access lines from 211 central offices and is the largest independent telephone company in New York outside of Verizon. Frontier is the incumbent landline provider for 7.9% of the state’s total access lines, with its largest service area centered on Rochester and the 585 area code. The PSC notes Frontier has been rapidly losing customers, with 30,000 access lines disconnected in 2018 alone.

But not every Frontier division in New York has operated below the PSC’s standards. Former Rochester Telephone-owned entities including Frontier Ogden Telephone Company and Frontier Communications of Seneca-Gorham, as well as Frontier Communications of Sylvan Lake experienced no significant outages or complaints in 2018. Frontier often allows its divisions to be managed somewhat autonomously, with local managers keeping watch over operations in their area. Frontier offers little residential fiber optic service in its New York markets, except in selected new housing developments and in areas where the existing copper network has deteriorated or been damaged beyond practical repair. Most customers are offered copper-based DSL service over telephone lines installed decades ago.

Frontier’s ongoing and increasing financial problems may be responsible for the spike in service complaints and lengthening repair times. Employees have repeatedly told Stop the Cap! resources to deal with service issues are increasingly scarce and cost management is among the highest priorities inside the company. Frontier’s service repairs often take days, if not weeks. Company officials have told employees that since most people have cell phones, landline repairs are no longer as critical as they once were years ago. But spotty internet service can significantly damage local businesses, and outages are becoming more frequent and taking longer to repair.

“The PSC Complaint rate has significantly increased in the last several years for these Frontier companies,” the PSC found. “In addition, Staff has responded to a significant number of network reliability complaints and inquiries from local, county, and State government representatives, including emergency response entities. These complaints include long repair durations and repeated out-of-service conditions, as well as internet access and speed issues.”

Stop the Cap! has learned the New York State Attorney General’s office has also opened an informal inquiry into the increasing number of internet service complaints filed with the AG’s office.

To learn why Frontier is experiencing an increasing number of problems, the PSC has requested more granular trouble reports and will interview Frontier’s local supervisors and technicians to get a candid assessment of Frontier’s wireline facilities and what exactly is contributing to a deterioration of service. If Frontier is unwilling or unable to improve service, the PSC has warned it may take formal action against the company.

WHAM-TV in Rochester reports some Frontier customers in Mount Morris, N.Y., south of Rochester, have been without internet service for five weeks, causing frustration. (2:05)

WROC-TV in Rochester reports on another multi-day Frontier service outage, this one affecting residential and business customers in the Sea Breeze and Point Pleasant areas along Lake Ontario. (1:58)

Frontier Customers in Exeter, Calif. Lose Phone Service for a Week, Some Banks Close

Frontier Communications customers in Exeter, Calif. experienced intermittent phone and internet service last week after the phone company’s network deteriorated to the point of failure on Friday, Aug. 2, when the entire Exeter telephone exchange was apparently affected.

For most of last week, customers reported periodic outages and callers could not reach numbers in the 592 exchange. Some businesses reported calls were met with recordings that their numbers were permanently disconnected.

Frontier has said little about the outage, impacting the Tulare County community of 10,000, located north of Bakersfield. But area customers and businesses had a lot to say.

The local Bank of America branch closed for several days, unable to process banking or ATM transactions because of the outage. That forced residents to drive to Visalia or Lindsay to find ATMs that did not display “Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are temporarily closed. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

The Frontier outage hit local businesses especially hard, because callers were given the impression area businesses had permanently closed. Those still open often could not process credit card transactions, turning away paying customers.

Exeter, Calif.

Paula Marvin, owner of Rosemary and Thyme in Exeter, told the Sun-Gazette the interruption affected her business.

“I remember being able to call out at around 10 a.m. but not in the afternoon,” Marvin said. “And even then I’m not sure who has what service.”

Callers in the 592 exchange could occasionally place calls to other Frontier customers in the same exchange, but not to other exchanges or non-Frontier customers. Incoming calls were usually not completed.

“When you call out, it gives you a busy signal, and when people call in it says the number has been disconnected or is no longer in service,” Marvin said.

Sherri Forcum, owner of Whistle Stop Diner, told the newspaper she lost about half of her business for the day on Aug. 2 because she was unable to process credit cards for walk-in customers and couldn’t receive phone calls for takeout orders. Callers were told the number was permanently disconnected. Some loyal customers drove to the diner to discover it was still open for business, and that was Forcum’s first realization the phone line was not working properly. Forcum intends to switch to Charter Spectrum phone service.

Customers calling Frontier to complain about the outage were initially told there was no outage and no problem with their phone service. The Exeter Chamber of Commerce begged to differ, telling the newspaper it was taking multiple complaints from Exeter businesses, particularly last Friday. Chamber representative Sarah Tyler experienced the outage herself.

“At the Mural Gallery, we’re able to pick up and get a dial tone but the moment you called it told you the number was disconnected,” Tyler said. “A lot of businesses and a lot of residents were really frustrated.”

The outage mysteriously ended on Monday. The newspaper could not get Frontier to comment on the outage at press time.

Frontier’s Repeated 911 Outages Worry West Virginia’s Panhandle Communities

Ohio and Marshall counties are located in West Virginia’s Panhandle region, sandwiched between the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Emergency services officials in West Virginia’s Panhandle region are “scared” about Frontier Communications’ ability to provide reliable access to 911 after four outages in three months, and they are reaching out to the Federal Communications Commission and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) for help.

Public officials in Ohio and Marshall counties, sandwiched between the Ohio and Pennsylvania borders near Wheeling, are increasingly concerned Frontier may be no longer able to provide reliable basic service in the region.

“I’ve got to be honest with you. It scares the heck out of me,” Theresa Russell, Ohio County’s 911 director, told WTRF News. “I worry that after these types of incidents occur, I’m going to find out that somebody needed us and they had no way of getting through.”

Two recent outages occurred around midnight, one of which Frontier later said was a “planned outage.” But local officials claim Frontier never notified affected communities, preventing them from giving the public an alternate number to call in case of an emergency.

The other outages were unplanned, one impacting nine West Virginia counties that lasted well over an hour.

Frontier officials have increasingly responded to these outages by stressing the economic difficulties it faces serving remote areas in states where it is costly to provide service. In a statement, Frontier told the TV station that it “takes its commitment to serve West Virginians and support 911 services seriously.”

Frontier:

“Frontier provides service in the most rural areas of West Virginia where other providers choose not to invest to deliver service and where the challenges of remoteness are greatest. We work to promptly address service interruptions that occur from time-to-time because of severe weather events, vehicle accidents, third party construction damage to our facilities and other causes.

“We continue to evaluate and execute strategies to improve our service and ensure our customers have access to reliable and affordable service.”

WTRF-TV reports West Virginia’s Panhandle region is frightened about Frontier’s repeated 911 service outages. (1:36)

Wisconsin DoT: ‘Frontier Ignored Requests and Violated State Code,’ Wiping Out Phone Service in Rhinelander

Phillip Dampier July 31, 2019 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

Frontier Communications customers across Rhinelander, Wis. were left without phone and internet service for a day after a construction crew cut fiber optic and copper cables that Frontier earlier promised to move, but never did.

In early July, service across parts of the city of 8,000 was knocked out as construction crews worked on a new roundabout, severing communications cables thought to be inactive. As a result, area businesses could not process credit card transactions, the local airport was disrupted, and medical clinics had to resort to cell phones to manage information about their patients.

Frontier later aggravated state officials by putting the blame for the outage on the construction crew.

“Frontier notified the contractor the cable was still in place and that its location was properly marked. It appears, the backhoe operator did not verify the depth of the cable, resulting in the cut,” said Frontier spokesman Javier Mendoza in an email at the time.

But a local TV station unearthed documents with an open records request that now point the finger of responsibility solely at Frontier.

Rhinelander, Wis.

On July 3, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation notified Frontier it was in violation of the Wisconsin Administrative Code because the company had promised to move the communications cables prior to the roundabout construction, but apparently never did.

“Unfortunately, Frontier did not relocate its facilities into this new conduit and never shared that fact with anyone. This caused the existing facility to be cut,” according to DoT utility engineer Chris Peplinski. The project manager, Dan Erva, wrote a frustrated internal email about the debacle that same day.

“At no point did anyone from Frontier or their contractors let us know that they did not relocate and [abandon] the lines as indicated in the work plan and contract special provisions,” Erva wrote.

Frontier could be held financially liable for the contractor delays.

This has not been the first frustrating experience customers and Wisconsin officials have had dealing with Frontier. In April, one outage left more than three dozen Rhinelander customers without service for weeks, and customers accused the company of being unable to give any straight answers about how and when service would be restored. Among those affected, one customer relying on medical monitoring equipment. She reportedly was given the runaround and even hung up on by Frontier customer service.

Frontier blamed April’s outage on a difficult-to-diagnose problem with a damaged high-capacity telecommunications cable. Frontier officials suggested construction crews were responsible for that damage as well.

“The assessment process for isolating damage to such cables generally takes significant time,” a Frontier spokesperson told WJFW-TV.

Some customers told the TV station they now understand what “significant time” means when dealing with Frontier.

“About 10 days [into the outage] a Frontier truck came around and I asked him, and he says ‘Oh about two days,'” said Sonny Paszak, who relies entirely on his landline. “Well, that was 10 days ago and I still haven’t got it.”

WJFW in Rhinelander, Wis. spoke earlier this year with frustrated Frontier landline customers that lost service for weeks. (2:45)

Utah Opens Formal Investigation Into Frontier Communications; Poor Service Cited

The Utah Division of Public Utilities (DPU) has launched a formal investigation into the performance of Frontier Communications of Utah after the state received an “abnormal number of complaints” over the past few years about the company’s ability to provide adequate landline phone and internet service in the state.

Frontier only services a small part of Utah, and many of the complaints come from the community of Castle Valley, a small town in Grand County in east-central Utah. The community has a population of just over 300 residents. Frontier is the sole telecommunications provider for much of the area.

“Providing adequate, reliable telecommunications services to the residents of Utah does not happen by chance. It is the result of monitoring a number of factors such as capacity, trouble reporting, and aging of infrastructure,” writes the DPU in a discussion about the investigation. “This monitoring provides support for wise capital investments that prevent outages, such as those being investigated in the current dockets. However, operating conditions can create unique challenges even with optimal investments. The DPU has also observed (through annual reports filed with the DPU) that in recent years Frontier has reported declining levels of annual capital investment. For these reasons the DPU initiated its own investigation into Frontier’s service quality.”

Castle Valley, Utah

The regulator noted Frontier has (so far) ignored a request for information filed with the phone company on June 11, 2019.

The DPU’s primary concern is with Frontier’s lack of investment in its legacy networks, which include those in Utah. Without appropriate investment, service quality deteriorates, particularly in rural areas where long stretches of copper cable have much greater exposure to the elements and have more opportunities for failure. Frontier has already indicated it plans no significant investments in its legacy copper service areas in 2019.

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