Enlarge/ A Frontier Communications service van.
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Frontier Communications is facing more scrutiny over outages that have left its customers without telecom serviceincluding access to 911 emergency callingfor weeks at a time.
US Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) sent letters to Frontier and the Federal Communications Commission last week, saying that Frontier’s failure to quickly restore service during outages has put residents in danger.
Frontier offers telecom service in 29 states over its fiber and copper networks, and the company is reportedly planning to file for bankruptcy by mid-March. Frontier has been investigated recently for long outages in several states.
“Most troubling are reports of a lack of ability to complete calls to 911 emergency services and rely on medical alert services, including specific reports of life-threatening situations in which a 911 call could not be completed,” Baldwin’s letter to Frontier CEO Bernie Han said.
A recent analysis of complaints to the DATCP [Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection] in 2018 and 2019, conducted by a Wisconsin television news station [WSAW-TV], found that individuals waited an average of more than three weeks for Frontier to restore landline service after an outage. A number of those filing complaints reported residing in areas without reliable wireless service, leaving them without alternative communication options. I am particularly concerned that many of the affected individuals were elderly and reported medical concerns.
Sen. Baldwin further told Frontier that having “significant periods” without 911 access is “unacceptable.” She asked Frontier for details on how the company will “ensure my constituents have reliable access to telecommunications services, including the ability to access emergency assistance.”
Baldwin also complained that Wisconsin’s 2011 deregulation of the industry “doesn’t leave many options for elected officials both federally and state,” WSAW-TV reported. The FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai has eliminated some network regulations at the federal level, too.
The WSAW-TV investigation cited by Baldwin was released on January 30. The analysis of complaints submitted to the state about Frontier’s “extended phone service outages” revealed an average repair time of 20 days for that type of outage.
Frontier told WSAW-tv that it “work[s] on resolving issues as quickly as [is] practical.” Frontier said it serves “some of the most rural areas of the state” and that outage-restoration efforts are often delayed by “uncontrollable circumstances like severe weather, construction crews cutting cables, [and] cars hitting telephone poles or equipment cabinets.” Frontier said it has 105,000 phone customers in the state.
We contacted Frontier about Baldwin’s letter today and will update this article if we get a response.
Baldwin previously contacted the FCC in September 2019 and received responses from the commission, but the senator wants to know exactly what the FCC is doing now about the Frontier problems. She wrote in her latest letter to the FCC that issues have continued since she last heard from the commission:
Regretfully, my office continues to be contacted by constituents who have ongoing complaints and concern for service outages, including a lack of ability to complete calls to 911 and rely on the Life Alert system. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, it has fielded these concerns from across the state. Unfortunately, failure to connect with 911 has reportedly already occurred during life-threatening situations, such as the choking of a child, and the collapsing of a shed on a gentleman during a heavy snow storm. Residents are rightly fearful that this lack of ability to communicate to 911 in moments of emergency may eventually result in loss of life. Further, according to local media reporting of January 30, 2020, these concerns are widespread, and multiple Wisconsin residents feel that this is a “matter of life and death.”
Baldwin asked the FCC for help “assuring that Frontier Communications is fully meeting their 911 service obligations and providing appropriate telephone and Internet service to its customers in Wisconsin.” She also asked for details on how many 911-related complaints have been filed to the FCC about Frontier in Wisconsin since January 2019.
“Further, please advise as to the steps that the FCC has taken to address these concerns with Frontier Communications,” Baldwin wrote.
We contacted the FCC today and will update this article if we get a response.
As we’ve previously reported, Frontier also failed to properly maintain its telecom network in Minnesota, leading to “frequent and lengthy” phone and Internet outages, an investigation by the state Commerce Department found in January 2019. That investigation led to a settlement after the FCC rejected a request to investigate.
New York state officials are also investigating Frontier over its repeated outages and long repair times.
Frontier reported having $16.3 billion in long-term debt as of September 30, 2019. The company reported revenue of $2 billion and a net loss of $345 million in Q3 2019.
The company has been losing subscribers, with its residential-customer base dropping from 4.15 million to 3.81 million in the 12-month period ending September 30, 2019. Frontier also reduced its workforce, which fell from 21,375 to 19,132 employees in the same one-year period.
Enlarge/ A Frontier Communications service van.