WSAZ Investigates | Disconnected and Dissatisfied

WSAZ Investigates | Disconnected and Dissatisfied
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 7:11 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - In an emergency, you expect to be able to pick up the phone and dial 911.

But many Frontier Communications customers say their only connection to help is their landline phone service, and it hasn’t been working in times they’ve needed it most.

For months, customers have contacted us about outages they say linger for days to weeks, as well as the difficulties they experience trying to speak with someone about getting service restored.

So, we started digging into the issue, reaching out to Frontier and several West Virginia lawmakers, who told us they’re also concerned.

Jackie Harris, a Frontier customer, told us she hasn’t had internet for 24 days.

“It’s really scary when your phone doesn’t work and then your internet is down for a while and you can’t get a call to get the help that you need,” Harris said.

WSAZ spoke with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who openly voiced his frustration.

“Frontier is terrible,” the senator said. “I can’t even get customer service from Frontier.”

Complaint after complaint, Frontier communications customers have been reaching out to WSAZ for months – in some cases pleading for help.

All the stories we’ve heard have two common themes: lingering outages and difficulty connecting with a customer service representative over the phone.

“They’ll either cut you off or you’ll just get lost in that system,” Harris said.

She is one of many who have reached out to us, asking for help. Harris said her neighbor in Calhoun County recently had a stroke, and her son needed help calling 911 because their phone lines were down.

“I’ve got Wi-Fi calling activated on my phone, but it took six tries to the 911 center to give them my address, give hers, and the phone just kept dropping the call. Six calls later, they were finally like an ambulance is on the way,” Harris said.

When email after email with concerns about Frontier’s service kept hitting the WSAZ inbox, we started forwarding those messages to a Frontier spokesperson in hopes of getting the issues resolved.

What we found: service would be restored to those customers within hours of us reaching out for help. So we then asked Frontier if there was a better way to streamline customer issues coming in to WSAZ. A few days later we got a response back from Frontier, saying in part, “I am beginning to believe customers are calling you instead of calling us.”

But many of the customers we spoke with say they reached out to Frontier about their outage and when their service wasn’t getting restored, they reached out to us for help. So, we pointed that out to Frontier, but they responded with recommendations that “work very well regarding customer service,” which include using an online chat, Twitter, or a 1-800 number to hear a recorded message about outages. They also said customers can sign up for text alerts when service is restored.

But what’s not in that response -- the option to speak with a customer service representative, something Frontier customers have told us time and time again is the biggest issue.

WSAZ found one customer service option not advertised to customers by Frontier -- after extended outages following ice storms in 2021, the West Virginia House of Delegates held a virtual hearing about the issues and set up an email address:

The email is monitored by delegates, and a Frontier representative and was designated to help quickly address West Virginia customers’ concerns.

State Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, helped set up that address, so we took your stories to him.

Sager: “What do you think after watching that?”

Linville: “Why did it take having to contact the newsroom? We get more calls about internet service than potholes … I get a snapshot every month of every concern that was brought to us, and the resolution of each and every one of them.”

Sager send a Freedom of Information Act request to look at the number of Frontier complaints that account has received since it was created. We found nearly 40 initial and follow-up complaints, with one customer calling Frontier’s service “byzantine” after having a phone line lying on his property for two years.

The highest number of complaints sent to the email address was in May 2021 – directly after WSAZ aired a story about the creation of the address.

One of the complaints sent to that email address was from a customer who said, “I’m reaching out to you after seeing the story on WSAZ News a few months ago about the lady’s Frontier service being out for months. We are getting no help from Frontier. We desperately need your help, and they need to be held accountable for their terrible service.”

Woman goes months without phone service

“If your problem is not being addressed, if you can’t get through, if you can’t get the technical support that you need, we will step in,” Linville said. “We monitor that every day. It comes directly to my email, directly to my cell phone, directly to my laptop. If they don’t handle it and I have demonstrable proof that they’ve not done it, they are going to be asked under oath why they haven’t.”

So, we asked Sen. Manchin if he believes Frontier should have to include the email address created by the House of Delegates on their website, as a means of contacting customer service.

“Oh, absolutely,” Manchin said. “The public support that we’ve give them to have the ability to serve a rural state such as West Virginia and them not step up to the plate and do what they were supposed to do. They are not investing in the equipment that it needs. They are not advancing their technology the way it should be advanced. None of these things. We’ve got to make sure West Virginians are connected, and we’re going do so every way possible.”

We also asked that same question to Charlotte Lane, chair of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, who agreed with Manchin’s assertions about including the email address created by the House of Delegates on Frontier’s website.

WSAZ also reached out to Frontier multiple times, asking for an interview about their customer service options. Our requests were either ignored or we were told, “On-camera interview not necessary because I already gave you the customer service options.” So, we sent them a few more questions in email, including “Why do problems only get fixed quickly when a TV station reaches out to Frontier?” and if the company would ever consider adding to its website as another means of customer service. The spokesperson did not answer about adding the email address to the website. The sent a response that reads in part, “It causes me great despair when I am late to see a customer issue. And when an elderly or differently abled person is affected, I am so upset I often weep.”

Manchin said reliable phone and internet service shouldn’t be hard to come by.

“You look back in the 1930s, back when Franklin Roosevelt became president,” Manchin said. “He had rural electrification. People didn’t have, people had very sparse electricity that people had no matter where they lived in West Virginia. If we can do that, if we can connect and get a wire to everyone’s house in the 1930s and 40s, surely in the 21st century we can connect everybody with the opportunity for high-speed internet.”

And customers like Harris just want the service they pay for and desperately need.

“I would like to be able to pick up that phone anytime and be able to make a phone call if my neighbors or I need help,” she said. “That’s all we want. You know, we pay our bills regularly. None of us are negligent in that respect. If you can’t make a phone call and get help, you are very isolated.”

Commissioner Lane told Sager that since bringing the matter to her attention, that if Frontier did not give an option to reach a customer service representative, she is going to be speaking with officials about adding that as an option. Lane also said she is going to look into the process of adding the telecom concerns email address to Frontier’s website and possibly the PCS’s phone number as well.

We will keep checking with the PSC about those additions and let you know if they move forward with that process.

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