For many, our story this week about the long list of customer concerns surrounding Frontier Communications, won’t really come as news. Poor service, questionable billing practices, and lack of investment in infrastructure affect thousands in our region, from residential customers to small businesses.
At least now, Frontier customers know they aren’t suffering alone, and that gives us the opportunity to do something about it. As the designated primary service provider from Crane Lake to Tower, to the tip of the Arrowhead, Frontier has made certain legal commitments to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, including a commitment to maintain a specified level of quality. Those standards are complex and technical, but we are confident that the company has failed to live up to the terms. And PUC officials are interested in what Frontier customers in our region have to say— so much so, they called us to say they’d like to see the dozen of stories we’ve received since first asking readers to tell us their Frontier experiences. They also encouraged residents of our region to submit complaint forms, and you’ll find out how to do that on page 8 of this week’s paper.
We might add that the same complaint form works for CenturyLink and CenturyTel customers, and we know folks in those portions of our coverage area have stories of their own. It’s time we stop suffering in silence and start letting state officials know what’s happening in our region in telecommunications.
Let’s be perfectly clear. This isn’t just a matter of convenience for residents of our region. When phones go out, we lose our connection to emergency services. When the Internet goes out, as happens routinely in our region, local businesses from gas stations to coffee shops to grocery stores, are all but shut down. Most retail business transactions take place today with the swipe of a piece of plastic, and when the Internet isn’t working, commerce comes to a screeching halt. It’s difficult enough for small businesses in our region without having to suffer lost business due to unreliable Internet service.
The current state of our telecommunications is a major impediment to economic development for a long list of reasons. Businesses that might otherwise consider locating in our region are discouraged from doing so, since many now rely heavily on the Internet. Potential new residents, many of them professionals who could work from home, can’t remain in our communities year-round without adequate telecommunications service. That affects the ability of our communities to grow.
Finally, when residents and business owners are routinely overcharged for services, or are forced to waste hours on hold with Frontier customer service representatives to get billing errors corrected, it’s a further economic drain on our region.
And as this week’s report makes clear, Frontier won’t clean up its act on its own. The company is deeply in debt after the questionable acquisition of landline infrastructure once owned by Verizon in California, Texas, and Florida. It’s losing customers by the tens of thousands per month, is hemorrhaging cash, and is posting huge financial losses each quarter. Its stock price has plummeted and many analysts are speculating that the company could be forced into bankruptcy as early as 2020. Frontier is in survival mode and it isn’t about to make the kind of investments needed to bring our region’s telecommunications into the 21st century.
That’s unacceptable, which is why we need to start speaking up, and not only to the PUC.
Frontier may be on the fast track to oblivion, but northeastern Minnesota doesn’t need to be along for the ride. We need to open the discussion with the PUC and our region’s elected officials about ways to encourage alternatives to Frontier. We also need to tell the company that it can’t use extortionate tactics, like threatening customers with huge fees when they seek to disconnect due to the company’s overcharges and poor service. People don’t disconnect from Frontier because it’s cheaper and more convenient to use alternatives. They do so because the company routinely fails to provide the services they’ve promised, and drives customers to distraction with billing practices that are downright predatory.
Frontier operates in our region with the blessing of the state. It’s time for state officials to reconsider their stamp of approval.