Commerce Dept.: ‘Frontier Communications has failed its MN customers'

An investigation into Frontier Communications has shown that the company has failed to provide adequate or reliable service, according to Minnesota Commerce Department.

The investigative report was filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Friday, January 4, 2019.

“Frontier Communications has failed to provide adequate, reliable phone and internet service to its Minnesota customers,” the report states, recommending that Frontier be required to refund or credit customers for service outages and unauthorized charges; add staffing to improve customer service; and increase investments in infrastructure and equipment.

The investigation focused on the service quality, customer service and billing practices of Frontier Communications of Minnesota, Inc., and its affiliate, Citizens Telecommunications of Minnesota, LLC.

Together, they provide landline phone service to nearly 100,000 Minnesota households and businesses, as well as internet service, in parts of northeastern Minnesota, southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area.

As part of the investigation, seven public hearings were held last fall in Frontier’s service area. The report is based on more than 1,000 consumer complaints and statements, as well as Frontier’s responses to information requests by the Commerce Department.

According to the report: “Many of the issues reported by consumers show direct violations of Minnesota law and Commission rules, and indicate broad, systemic problems with Frontier’s service quality, record keeping and business operations.”

The investigative report details a wide range of concerns about Frontier:

• Frequent and lengthy service outages, including loss of customer access to 911 emergency services;
• Delays in repairing and restoring service;
• Failure to provide expedited responses to service outages affecting vulnerable customers with medical needs;
• Failure to maintain and repair equipment, causing service outages and leading to public safety hazards such as lines and damaged equipment on the ground;
• Lack of investment in infrastructure to ensure reliable service;
• Frequent billing errors, including inaccurate and unauthorized charges;
• Failure to provide refunds or bill credits for service outages;
• Lack of timely, responsive customer service, including lengthy call wait times, inaccurate information and “lost” repair tickets; and
• Discriminatory practices such as prioritizing new service installations over repairs of existing service and providing slower repair services in rural areas compared to more populated areas.

The Commerce Department investigation was authorized early last year by the Public Utilities Commission, which had received numerous complaints about Frontier. The Commission regulates companies providing local phone service in Minnesota.

Javier Mendoza, Vice President, Corporate Communications and External Affairs, responded with the following statment:

"Frontier strongly disagrees with the assertions in the Department of Commerce’s initial comments and is reviewing the Department’s filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Frontier and its employees work hard to provide reliable, affordable telecommunications services to approximately 90,000 customers in Minnesota, many in rural communities where no other provider will invest in providing service. Frontier recognizes we experience service issues and delays from time-to-time with some of our customers. We are an ethical company committed to our customers and the Minnesota communities we serve. We take this matter seriously and will respond appropriately before the Public Utilities Commission."

The report is available on the Minnesota Commerce Department website (mn.gov/commerce). It is also available on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website (mn.gov/puc). Click on the eDockets link to go to the search page and then type 18-122 for the docket number.

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