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October 22, 2018

9/21/2018 12:09:00 PM
Frontier customers very vocal about company shortcomings

The state utilities commission is holding a series of hearings to collect firsthand testimony from Frontier Communications customers related to issues with poor service reliability, questionable marketing and lack of customer service they may have experienced.  The testimony at the hearing at Wyoming City Hall last week painted a picture of deep dysfunction within the Frontier operations, according to statements made by customers in Onamia and Willow River,  to Lino Lakes and Vadnais Heights and throughout Chisago County.

Hearings were scheduled in Ely, Slayton, Lakeville, McGregor, and last week,the administrative law judge brought  his entourage to Wyoming City Hall.   

If you would like to share your story with state regulators and can’t appear in person --the Public Utilities Commission has directed state agencies to keep the record open until October 3 and your hard copy or e mail complaints can still be submitted until then.  

Agencies involved include the MN Dept. of Employment and Economic Development (Broadband  Development Division), represented at the hearing by Diane Wells;  the MN Dept. of Commerce’s Gregory Coyle was also at the hearing and Ian Dobson with the MN Attorney General’s office observed.  

Administrative Law Judge Oxley opened the hearing at 6 p.m. September 12 and it was getting close to winding down three-and-a-half hours later.  

Over 100 signed-up on the speaker list;  but many left as the evening wore on-- or chose to submit their testimony in written form.  An estimated 30 to 40 people did use the microphone to share complaints about Frontier telephone and Internet customer service, its billing practices, inability to respond when repairs and loss of service were flagged;  and almost all who spoke had issues concerning speed and capacity of Internet service not being provided as-promised or as paid for.

Many told Administrative Law Judge Oxley they had already contacted the Public Utilities Commission, MN Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General.  Indeed, the “large volume” of complaints received from January 2017 to January 2018, by the PUC Consumer Affairs Office,  was one  thing triggering the commission to open the investigation and hearings.

Audience members could obviously empathize with frustrating tales that people shared--and anecdotes were met with audience applause.

Frontier had customer services reps positioned at a table in the city hall foyer to be able to help people directly.  There was a polite crowd hovering there for most of the evening.

Counsel for Frontier, Kevin Seville,  presented an apology on behalf of the company to everyone in the hearing.
He explained there are  phases of Frontier’s planned upgrades, still in the works to an estimated 47,000 customers, which continue under federal CAF assistance into 2020.  The Connect America Fund was appropriated by Congress to help address some of the massive gaps in communications services and capabilities in outlying areas versus denser population centers.

Frontier Corporate Communications and External Affairs Vice President Javier Mendoza,  in conversation with this reporter during a hearing recess, said housing growth is bringing more customers into some areas, which creates a more cost effective market for capital expenses in extending Frontier networks and it’s a good thing.  But,  there’s also been service interruptions tied to the recent development and road construction activity as Frontier equipment or lines get damaged in greater frequency than usual.  

There were numerous complaints from longer ago,  however.

Vernon Crane, North Center Lake area, said he asked for billing credit when his service was down 18 to 20 days and he was told he signed a contract agreeing he would pay.  “I am not getting the service...where does that leave the customer?”he asked. Having to pay while not being provided the Internet or phone service was a common theme among those testifying.

Some had given the modern day communications delivery network deep thought.  

They had observations on the futility of the system the way it’s proceeding, specifically shortfalls in meeting needs of the elderly.  Landlines should not be allowed to become obsolete, said Diane Eaton, who recently moved into a housing area designed for senior citizens, and finding the available communications choices are unacceptable.  She stated, “We shouldn’t have to beg for basic utilities.”

Scandia City Council member Steve Kronmiller told the judge the city doesn’t expect to even meet upload and download speed standards for Internet service AFTER the CAF projects are completed.  

He referenced flyers and mailers, saying marketers are promising Scandia citizens a level of service that “doesn’t exist” and never will in Scandia.  

He suggested state agencies get the telecommunications firms, tech experts and government units “working together” on this.

There were people who documented loss of Internet and/or phone for days at a time.  Dept  of Commerce’s Greg Doyle assured the audience that there are “rules on restoring service” and other mandatory utility service provider standards,  that will be investigated.

People pointed to the need for competition to force Frontier to up its game.  Several spoke of no other companies to switch to, or a satellite service option they switched to that was even worse.  

Most said they are using cellphone “hotspot” capability in lieu of Internet, even though they keep paying their Internet bill.  

One Taylors Falls mom said her kid went to a fast food place offering free WI-FI when her Frontier Internet was down, just to do his homework.  She told the judge this needs to be addressed as a statewide civil rights issue when students can’t get reliable Internet to submit schoolwork, etc.  Adult students taking college on-line programs said their service drops in the middle of an exam, and they can’t log back in, receiving an “F.”

 Rural customers as far away as Onamia and Willow River, spoke of having no phone for over a week;  or staying home awaiting service techs and no shows being the norm.

Many had stories of their bill increasing $1 to $2 per month, beyond the pricepoint they agreed to.  

Speeds that are far below what the service agreement promises,  are considered “acceptable” by Frontier. Wyoming area resident Dan Babbitt asked,  where else can you receive a product that is 20 percent of what you purchased and it’s okay?

Others gave examples of cancelled services and continuing to be billed.  

Diane Hoppe, from Stacy, said she had to get lawyers and her financial services provider involved when she said Frontier continued to debit her account for auto-pay after she was no longer a customer.  Fred Resler said he moved, cancelled service and continues to be billed.  He’s been told he’ll get a prepaid VISA gift card for reimbursement but hasn’t seen that.  Julia McCann, speaking for the Croixside neighborhood on the river in Franconia Township, brought written complaints and timelines of service outages from her neighbors and also submitted written testimony on service issues at the St Croix River Research Station.  

Others spoke about loss of business or not being able to work remotely, when their home-based occupations were negatively affected by Frontier related problems.  

Joe Thibodeau, Taylors Falls, said he understands “not everybody can get fiber (high capacity data) at the same time” other companies can track service outages and respond, and provide bill credits.  Frontier should be able to-- and should not require customers to document service problems.  

Theresa Lorenz got a round of applause when she ended her turn at the microphone thanking state regulators for offering citizens the chance to  be heard, as victims of what she calls  corporate corruption.

The Administrative Law Judge compiles all the evidence exhibits and recorded testimony and will make a report to the Utilities Commission at a later date.  Watch the Press for updates.  You can go to the PUC website www.mn.gov/puc and follow any progress or documents developed on the case by using the docket number #18-122.



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