UPDATE | Pushing for a new Frontier to improve service
The West Virginia Public Service Commission and Frontier have agreed on a firm to conduct a management audit of the utility provider.
Schumaker and Company will preform the audit and publish a final report within the next six months. Frontier will pay for the audit.
"After receiving numerous and increasing complaints regarding Frontier's quality of service, including concerns from emergency services, 911 centers and senior citizens, on August 30, 2018, the Commission ordered a focused management audit of Frontier to be conducted by a qualified outside auditing firm identified through a request for proposals and paid for by Frontier," a PSC news release said. "The focused management audit will give Frontier and the Commission a comprehensive ability to understand and prioritize the challenges facing Frontier."
The Commission said that the audit should focus on Frontier's ability to provide coverage to emergency services.
"I called customer support, they said no you have to talk to technical support," Frontier customer Monty Fowler said. His internet service had been out for a month. "I called tech support and got an automated answer that said based on my phone number we have identified an outage in your area, you can press one and we will send you a text when it is fixed. Then they hung up. No option to talk with a human. No way to find out what was going on."
Fowler said Frontier did not show up for three scheduled appointments to restore his service and he was unable to get any information on when it might be restored.
"I'm lucky, I'm retired but if I was working I would have had to take three days off because the time they always gave me was between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.," Fowler said. "Not the morning, not the afternoon, right in the middle of the day."
Fowler said he has considered other service providers, but just wants his current Frontier service to work.
"Frontier needs to realize that bottom line, they are here to serve people," Fowler said. "Some of these are people that, unlike me, they need their internet. They're dependent on it or they are dependent on Frontier for their home phone service, their 911 service."
Frontier vice president of corporate communications and external affairs Javier Mendoza issued the following statement to WSAZ:
"Frontier engaged in good faith in the bid award process as ordered by the PSC and will fully comply fully with the PSC's audit. The expectation is that the audit will give the Commission the ability to understand and prioritize challenges. One key problem the Commission and Frontier must resolve together is that while Frontier only serves about ten percent of the 2.26 million telephone lines in West Virginia, Frontier has 100 percent of the obligation to provide traditional telephone voice service to customers in the most rural, remote, and high-cost areas of the state. We look forward to working with the PSC to find solutions to this problem.
"Complaints about Frontier's Internet and phone service are often from customers in rural and high cost service areas. For Internet service, we strive to deliver the highest speeds, but the available speed depends on multiple variables, including, especially in rural areas, the distance that the customer's location is from our Internet equipment. Although Frontier faces competition from Satellite providers in these areas, other cable and wireless providers have chosen not to invest in serving these rural customers. We price our services very competitively and offer a high-value option. We will also continue to evaluate and execute strategies to improve our service and ensure our customers have access to reliable and affordable service"
Leaders have stepped up to hold Frontier accountable for a lack of service reliability.
"Access to phone service is not a luxury; it is a critical lifeline that could mean the difference between life and death," Senator Joe Manchin said in a letter to Frontier CEO Dan McCarthy.
Manchin's letter follows the West Virginia Public service Commission opening an audit into Frontier's operation in August 2018. That was prompted by a large increase in complaints about Frontier's service.
"I don't always depend on it to work because I know it is probably not going to do that," Frontier customer Lawrence Gray said. "So it used to be a real shock when you picked it up and it didn't work. The other day when I picked it up and you couldn't get a dial tone, I was like well here we are again. It is the way it is."
Lawrence and his wife, Patrecia, said that their service has been constantly interrupted since Frontier took over their telephone and internet service in 2010.
"If we ever want to call 911 and it is not working, what do you do because we have no call phone service here," Patrecia Gray said.
Patrecia said it typically takes five to seven days for Frontier to restore their service after an outage.
"No one should ever have to think twice about whether he or she will be able to call for help," Sen. Manchin said in the letter.
Frontier declined to speak with WSAZ for this story. Vice President Javier Mendoza issued this statement: "Frontier serves only about ten percent of the state voice lines in its service area – and falling – but has 100 percent of the universal service obligation to serve the most rural and high-cost areas. Our customer base continues to decline, while the cost of service per line has increased dramatically. This has resulted in an unsustainable model for providing service in rural and high-cost areas, manifesting in increased numbers of service complaints. We plan to reach out to the state’s leaders to collaboratively find solutions to this difficult challenge."