Customers air grievances at Frontier hearing

by Jessica Kellogg -

“Why are we paying for services we don’t receive?”
That was the question asked over and over again at the Frontier Communications Public Hearing on Sept. 4 as about 70 members of the community stood before the Honorable Jeffery Oxley, administrative law judge for the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings, and told their stories.
Slow and unreliable internet, waiting weeks for tech support, hidden fees and billing errors, and problems with customer service were among the issues raised again and again during the three hour hearing.
With no other phone or internet options in much of rural Minnesota, many customers report feeling “captive” or “hostage.”
For some, the unreliable connections are unmanageable, providing frustration and inconvenience.
For others, a downed phone or internet connection prevents them from doing their job, resulting in a loss of income.
For residents like Nancy Johnson, whose husband has a pacemaker which requires a landline connection for monitoring, it’s a safety concern.
When Johnson’s phone went out following a June thunderstorm, despite Frontier putting a “medical speedy ticket” in for her request for service, it took 36 days before her phone line was restored.
Peg Rosett told a similar story of waiting 10 days for phone service to be restored to a life alert-type system.
Nita Utterback, who works from home, had to take 20 vacation days when her internet service was not available.
Similarly, Amy Kromer, who owns the Echo Shores Resort, described how a couple days without email results in a direct loss of revenue because she can’t reply to potential customers.
Complaints of hidden charges and unwanted features abounded.
Emily Ingram spoke about how she had a voicemail box she didn’t know about for six months, and so missed countless messages.
Kromer estimates she has been overcharged $3,600 during the past six years; Frontier refunded $50 of those charges.
One of the most prevalent issues raised was the oversold bandwidth.
Customers described how the old infrastructure simply is unable to keep up with Frontier’s promises; to the point that when service technicians do come out, there is often nothing they can do.
Despite paying for three or six Mbps, speeds of 0.01 to 0.7 Mbps were far more common.
When Utterback asked why she was not receiving the faster speeds, she was reportedly told that Frontier sells connections “up to” a specific speed, but does not guarantee that speed will be available.
“It’s like you go to the grocery store to buy eggs,” said Bo DeRemee. “And the store tells you that you get ‘up to 12 eggs’ in a carton. So you buy your eggs, go home, and there are two eggs in the carton.”
“And one of them is broken!” chimed in another customer.
“I can’t think of another product that is sold like this,” DeRemee continued. “Why can’t we get what we’re paying for?”
Brad Carleson explained that fixing these issues is not only important for current customers, but having fast, reliable internet could do wonders for the local economy by allowing people who can telework to move their jobs and families here.
Kevin Saville, attorney for Frontier Communications, acknowledged customer frustrations and that Frontier had been doing a “less than perfect job.”
He also took time to explain about the Connect America Fund (CAF) and its replacement, Connect America Fund Phase 2 (CAF-II).
CAF was an FCC program designed to bring broadband service to rural America. This funding was used with the intention of bringing high speed internet to customers in rural Lake County.
The initial program ran out of funding before the project could be completed.
CAF-II is a new program designed to improve broadband service to rural America. 46,000 locations across Minnesota will receive this funding, however, the FCC will be determining which locations are selected.
Also present at the hearing was Javier Mendoza, Frontier Communications vice president, as well as several company managers and customer service representatives.
“We hear you loud and clear, and we are working hard to provide reliable, affordable service. Rural areas do present unique challenges; we are working to overcome infrastructure problems and the difficulties of remote access,” said Mendoza.
One such challenge is the use of copper wires in the Ely area. Due to the nature of these wires, a signal will slow the further it is from the source.
“Of the 100,000 customers across Minnesota, one disrupted customer is one too many,” said Mendoza.
In a follow up email, Mendoza confirmed that after the hearing about 15 customers opened tickets involving service or billing with the customer service representatives present.
All of these customers have been contacted, and a number of these issues have already been resolved.
There will be six more hearings over the course of the month, at which time Oxley will write his report of findings.
This will be available at www.mn.gov/puc or by calling 1-800-657-3782. All interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on Oxley’s findings.