REGIONAL— Customers of Frontier Communications have responded in overwhelming numbers to the recent call for comments by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Commerce on …
REGIONAL— Customers of Frontier Communications have responded in overwhelming numbers to the recent call for comments by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Commerce on the company’s service quality and billing practices— and that has PUC staff recommending public hearings throughout Frontier’s service territory.
That recommendation is contained within a staff report issued last week in advance of the PUC’s next meeting, set for March 29.
“The total number of comments and complaints, often with detailed documentation, indicate that widespread problems with service quality, customer service and billing exist,” concluded the commission staffers in their report.
While calls for public comment by the PUC typically yield fewer than a dozen responses, the commission had received a total of 429 comments and complaints through the first five weeks of the comment period. “This compares to the 529 comments received over 7 months in the recent Minnesota Power rate case,” noted the commission staff.
“Comments received so far note extremely poor internet performance and generally underperforming service,” noted the report. “Those writing in universally desire an alternative provider.”
The staff noted that many Frontier customers were close to desperation. “Customers express the very highest levels of frustration over service quality and over their interactions with Frontier representatives. Customers express despair over their billing and lack of alternatives. Finally, they express outright gratitude for the hope that someone might come to their aid.”
The PUC staff report notes that many of the complaints and comments “invite further engagement with the Commission,” which could best be facilitated through public hearings in Frontier’s service territory, which would be overseen by the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The staff is also recommending a number of steps to ensure that Frontier customers are made aware of the hearings, in part by requiring Frontier to notify all of its customers, most likely through an insert in the company’s monthly billing, of the times of locations of hearings. The company would also need to mail notice to all local units of government and publish advertisements in legal newspapers of affected counties and other newspapers of general circulation within the company’s service territory. All of the notices would need to be issued at least ten days prior to the hearing.
The staff report helps to categorize the nature of the complaints against Frontier, which range from service quality to overbilling. “Some parties allege being without telephone service for about a week’s time on multiple occasions,” notes the report. “Such instances resulted in customers being unable to access 911 or connect medical devices dependent on land telephone lines.”
The report continues: “Nearly all comments mention that they are being charged for service product(s) not being provided as promised, often with related billing and cancelation disputes as a consequence. Nearly all parties complain that Frontier’s customer service representatives provide inconsistent information on available service in the customer’s area and its price. Many report routinely being sold higher level (more costly) service or hardware as a remedy for service problems that remain or return after the recommended solution is in place. Customers often note being told later that the upgraded service they were sold is not available at their location.”
Many other complaints to the PUC concerned home service visits, which often required customers to take time off of work, but provided no actual remedy to the reported problems.
Billing and purported contracts remain among the most frequent complaints from customers, according to the report. “Customers frequently report discovering they are allegedly on a contract with penalties for ending service early even if they had explicitly refused to accept long term contracts. Apparently, such contracts automatically renew without customer notice upon payment of the first month of the new period. Customers indicate being warned of damaging credit reports in addition to accumulating penalties if they do not pay disputed bills. Billing disputes also include promised discounts not being provided, penalties accumulating on disputed amounts, and checks being sent but not being credited to accounts.”
Similar complaints were aired in a Timberjay investigation last November, which revealed the widespread nature of service and billing problems with Frontier. That story prompted state officials to examine their own Frontier files, which also revealed an unusually high number of complaints. The PUC and the Department of Commerce opened their investigation shortly thereafter.