St Louis County experiencing problems with Frontier Communications

The TimberJay published a long article on the problems local residents and businesses are having with Frontier Communications. Internet access to not reliable, billing is unpredictable and hard to understand, there are high surcharges to drop their service and often few options when you look for alternatives.

There are a couple of stories here. One is the frustration of the customers…

While most Frontier customers can’t recite the full litany of woe experienced by Wilson, for many residents of Frontier’s service territory here in northeastern Minnesota it sounds all too familiar.

“This has been the worst service experience of my life,” said Melissa Holmes, of Embarrass, who responded to a recent story in the Timberjay asking readers to send in their concerns about Frontier. That story prompted dozens of responses, all with similar stories of overcharges, long waits on hold for billing or technical assistance, and regular outages, some lasting for days.

Holmes said her phone service regularly goes out, particularly when conditions are wet. “My whole neighborhood here on Wahlsten Road in Embarrass has had service issues with Frontier for decades,” she said. “Repeated calls to the company go nowhere.”

It’s a story of a company that is having trouble keeping up with technology…

Prospects for an improvement in Frontier’s service quality appear unlikely given the increasingly tenuous financial condition of the company. Frontier went deeply in debt in early 2016, when it completed an $11 billion purchase of landline infrastructure formerly owned by Verizon in California, Texas, and Florida. The acquisition more than doubled the size of the company, but also prompted a major restructuring, which included significant layoffs.

Frontier officials had touted the acquisition at the time, arguing that the company knew how to make money from traditional landline infrastructure even as the industry is rapidly transitioning to wireless. But the company has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge and as complaints over poor service have mounted, the company has hemorrhaged customers, particularly in more populated regions, where customers often have viable alternatives.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Frontier lost 102,000 landline dependent customers in just the first quarter of 2017. The company lost $373 million last year and a whopping $737 million through the first half of 2017, much of it as the company writes off overdue bills from the customers it acquired in the Verizon acquisition. Earlier this year, the company announced that it was cutting its dividend by more than 60 percent and would engineer a 1-for-15 reverse stock split (exchanging one share for every 15 shares outstanding) in a move to boost its sagging stock price. It hasn’t helped, as the company’s share price has slid from a high of $56 at the beginning of the year, to just over $11 this week. The company’s slide prompted the S&P 500 to recently drop the company from its index.

Finally it’s a story that is held captive by their broadband provider…

Brenda Winkelaar, who operates SuLu’s Espresso Café in Tower with her sister Linda, can attest to that personally. She said the majority of their customers rely on credit or debit cards for the coffee and treats they buy. But completing those transactions is only possible when the Internet is working— and outages are all too frequent, said Winkelaar. “We lose significant business because of it,” she said, since more and more people don’t carry cash. Rather than turn away customers, they routinely just give things away or ask regular customers to pay next time.

While that might not be a disaster if the Internet outage is a matter of minutes, operations at SuLu’s were thrown into chaos in late September when their Internet disappeared for three full days.

And the service impacts many…

State Rep. Rob Ecklund said he hears concerns about Frontier all the time. “Funny you should ask,” said Ecklund when he was contacted by the Timberjay earlier this month. “I just checked my voicemails from yesterday afternoon, and two of them were about problems with Frontier,” he said.

Ecklund contacted both state and company officials in the wake of the calls, and issued a press release (See sidebar) earlier this month informing residents of District 3A how to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission against the company.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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