U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Amy Klobuchar Call on FCC Chair to Launch Probe into Frontier Communications’ Business Practices Amid Troubling Minnesota State Report, Attorney General Investigation

From the Senators…

Frontier Received Millions in Federal Funding to Improve Rural Broadband While Delivering Shoddy Internet and Telephone Services; Senators Say Minnesotans Deserve Full FCC Investigation Into Use of Federal Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. [03/13/19]—In light of Minnesota state investigations into telecommunications provider Frontier Communications Corporation (Frontier) and its subsidiaries—which have received millions in federal funding—detailing poor service to consumers, today U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pressed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai to launch an investigation into Frontier’s business practices.

Minnesota Department of Commerce investigation alleges that Frontier may have broken at least 35 state laws and regulations, prompting the Minnesota Attorney General to open an investigation into consumer protection complaints. The report details the experience of Frontier customers who incurred interruptions of service for months at a time, slow and insufficient repairs, and unauthorized charges or inaccurate billing errors.

Frontier has received millions in federal funding to build out broadband service to rural Minnesotans. Sens. Smith and Klobuchar are standing up for consumers by urging the FCC to conduct oversight into whether Frontier is appropriately using federal funds.

“Access to broadband is a core economic issue, and Frontier has received more than $100 million in federal funding over the last four years to improve broadband services in rural Minnesota,” wrote Sens. Smith and Klobuchar to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “However, the report claims Frontier may be underinvesting in its service areas for which it received federal subsidies to build out its broadband network. When rural service issues were reported to the company, the report alleges that Frontier would prioritize repairing requests in more densely populated areas with greater profit margins, and provide better service and equipment repair to those households. When pressed in the investigation, repair tickets for rural and remote customers, which presumably would show lengthy repair times or outages in service, would be “lost” or missing from records. The Department found Frontier’s recordkeeping to be deficient, and raised the question of whether Frontier was illegally concealing its discriminatory behavior.” 

“We respectfully request the FCC commence an investigation into the business practices of Frontier Communications, and its subsidiaries, serving our constituents in Minnesota to determine whether the company is in compliance with [the Connect America Fund] (CAF) funding requirements as designated by the agency.”

You can read text of the letter here or below:

March 13, 2019

The Honorable Ajit Pai
ChairmanFederal Communications Commission
445 12th St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to request an investigation into the business practices of Frontier Communications Corporation (Frontier), and its subsidiary Citizens Telecommunications Company of Minnesota, LLC, which together serve approximately 90,000 mostly rural consumers in Minnesota. Last year, hundreds of consumer complaints across the state prompted the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to request the Minnesota Department of Commerce (Department) to open an investigation into Frontier’s quality of internet and telephone service, billing practices, and customer service.

The investigation issued a report in January 2019, detailing circumstances where consumers incurred interruptions of service for months at a time, slow and insufficient repairs, and unauthorized or inaccurate billing errors. Some consumers were charged for a service never provided, experienced a disconnection of service without notification, and were not refunded for outages or erroneous charges. The complaints and report detail that customers were routinely left unable to reach 911 emergency services. Some of those customers, including elderly, disabled, or other particularly vulnerable individuals, required the use of phone service to monitor pacemakers or other urgent medical needs. Frontier further posed public safety hazards where inaction by the telecommunications provider left cables unburied, tied to trees or propane tanks, or crossing private decks, for months, and in some circumstances years. Furthermore, several customers detailed their frustrations when they paid for an advertised—or “up to”—speed that frequently failed to be delivered by the company. Many of these consumers in our state live in areas that do not have another service provider available to them.

Access to broadband is a core economic issue, and Frontier has received more than $100 million in federal funding over the last four years to improve broadband services in rural Minnesota. However, the report claims Frontier may be underinvesting in its service areas for which it received federal subsidies to build out its broadband network. When rural service issues were reported to the company, the report alleges that Frontier would prioritize repairing requests in more densely populated areas with greater profit margins, and provide better service and equipment repair to those households. When pressed in the investigation, repair tickets for rural and remote customers, which presumably would show lengthy repair times or outages in service, would be “lost” or missing from records. The Department found Frontier’s recordkeeping to be deficient, and raised the question of whether Frontier was illegally concealing its discriminatory behavior.

In the report, the Department questions whether the information provided by Frontier to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proves sufficient for regulators to execute oversight of the company and to determine whether Frontier is meeting performance obligations. The report submitted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce concluded that “the information Frontier has submitted has been too minimal for the [Public Utilities] Commission to perform the duties delegated by the FCC, including the authority to investigate and make findings as part of the Commission’s obligation to certify to the FCC that the Connect America funds are used appropriately by Frontier.” The report recommends requiring Frontier to produce documentation of households where funding was used to serve previously unserved homes, and verify the service available to those newly served locations.

In filing complaints, Minnesota consumers sought assistance from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the state Attorney General’s office, and the FCC. In its report, Minnesota regulators found that Frontier may have broken more than 35 state laws and regulations. Last week, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office revealed it has also opened an investigation into the alleged violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. As the FCC is tasked with overseeing its Connect America Fund (CAF) program, it has the obligation to hold companies who receive federal funding accountable to ensure efficient and effective broadband deployment and services.

We respectfully request the FCC commence an investigation into the business practices of Frontier Communications, and its subsidiaries, serving our constituents in Minnesota to determine whether the company is in compliance with CAF funding requirements as designated by the agency.

Sincerely,

###

This entry was posted in MN, Policy, 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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