10/17/2019 4:20:00 PM PUC could settle with Frontier
with action today
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will meet today (Oct. 17) to review a stipulated settlement, that is the product of negotiations amongst the Department of Commerce, Office of the Minnesota Attorney General, and the company that’s been under investigation by state regulators-- Frontier Communications Citizens Telecommunications.
The settlement is meant to resolve complaints related to Frontier customer service and reliability and move the company into a new era. The settlement is not perfect, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which wrote that it may not resolve whether Frontier violated Minnesota laws and what action should specifically be taken.
The AG said the settlement “kicks the can down the road” and a “number of issues are being delayed and not resolved.”
The investigation into Frontier was initiated by the PUC based on the unusual volume of citizen complaints its consumer division received about the company’s practices. This process has not included Internet customers. The communications division is what the state PUC has regulatory authority over.
Administrative Law Judges provided fact gathering holding six public hearings and the commerce department coordinates information and they both report back to the PUC with guidance and findings.
The local public hearing for aggrieved customers of Frontier was held at Wyoming City Hall a little over a year ago and 95 people testified or placed written complaints into the record.
The administrative law judge reported at the conclusion of these hearings that a number of customers were unaware of the investigative process; (notices were not sent to electronically billed accounts) so an extension for public comment was granted, while notices were re-distributed by the company.
Agencies and the company were ordered to enter mediation. DOC submitted its analysis to the PUC in January 2019.
The settlement being considered today arrived at the PUC in early October to be put on an agenda.
There’d been some review over the last few weeks, questioning the PUC ‘s authority to order a credit or refund action (restitution) which will likely also be discussed.
Refunds and credits are paramount in the proposed settlement.
To address the wide range of concerns expressed with Frontier’s poor billing practices, service unreliability and missed service appointments there are several conditions where the company will be required to return money or credit accounts.
According to the documents in the public file the PUC had complaints about types of service promised but not even technically available, and options for enhanced phone service billed and not provided-- along with extended periods that telecommunications were down. These are also subject to refunds.
Frontier recently has been providing reports regularly to the PUC providing timelines of complaints and date being filed, and how long it has taken the company to respond and work tickets that are outstanding so the PUC can get a better idea of numbers and service delays involved.
The settlement also stipulates a new 1-800 number to be staffed with trained service reps.
Under Minnesota utility rules Frontier has the legal duty to comply with essential basic communications services. The Dept. of Commerce concluded in its report that Frontier’s record-keeping “...appears to have become so deficient that the company’s records cannot be relied upon.”
The department determined Frontier had violated “at least 35 sererate laws and rules.”
The PUC needs to decide if the settlement is to be approved as presented and if the commission should take any action in addition to the proposed conditions. The Office of the MN Attorney General for one, would like to see more work done in the settlement on protective modifications. The settlement also ought to include “verifiable methods to ensure compliance” and steps to set Frontier “on a path to reach an acceptable level of performance.”
The Dept of Commerce, Office of the Attorney General and Frontier all have time allotted on the agenda with the PUC.