(07/19/2018)
Many Calhoun residents who are linked to Frontier's landline system continue to report frequent outages, usually when it rains, with many of those complaining being older citizens who rely on the landline service to call 911, family and friends.

Unfortunately, only a few Frontier customers have written formal letters or emails of complaint requested to the Calhoun Commission regarding their service, which leaves some indication that customers are happy with their service.

While hundreds of complaints have been filed regarding Frontier's so- called high speed internet service, landline service is worsening with frequent outages.

The Calhoun Commission has discussed options to address the situation, which involves Frontier's depreciated infrastructure and few employees to make repairs.

Calhoun Commission president Kevin Helmick said, "We are considering the best action to take. Either to join a union lawsuit or file complaints with the PSC, or both."

The commission went to bat for a large number of customers in northern Calhoun who had outages over a five year period, mostly linked to antiquated sub-stations. After a filing with the WVPSC, the company replaced the stations.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is being called on to launch an investigation into Frontier Communications' copper landline network, with a union and the PSC's independent staff recommending it look into the condition of the company's customer service, financial status, infrastructure and more.

The case has been open since March, when the Communications Workers of America requested the PSC initiate a general investigation into Frontier. CWA filed that request shortly before West Virginia Frontier employees represented by the union began a strike that went on for three weeks.

CWA pointed to "persistent, pervasive problems with the quality of service provided to customers," such as long outages, long delays in repair requests and Frontier failing to fix the problem until a formal PSC complaint was filed as reasons for an investigation.

"The formal complaints come from people in urban Charleston and rural areas across the state," the CWA said. "Many threaten public safety, as many customers say they have no cell phone, are disabled and rely on phone-enabled health monitors, care for disabled or elderly relatives with whom they must stay in touch."

Frontier vehemently disputed CWA's claims in its own filing, saying it's "an obvious attempt" to bring the PSC into the labor dispute. The company said measures of service quality in the state "dipped" for a few months in 2017 after instances of "devastating weather."

Since those filings, the PSC staff has concurred with the CWA and asked for the scope of the investigation to be expanded further, if approved by the commission. The staff also wants the commission to determine if current Frontier service benchmarks are good enough and if the company "has the financial ability" to provide quality service in West Virginia.

"Staff believes that the Commission is holding Frontier accountable to provide service quality to citizens of West Virginia," it said. "There are areas of the State, however, that continue to deal with poor telecommunications service and it is an ongoing problem in need of a solution." Frontier acquired Verizon's copper-wire line network in West Virginia in 2010, becoming the dominant landline provider in the state. Copper networks use copper wiring for telecommunications services, and are gradually being replaced by newer fiber-optic cable.

Opponents of the deal at the time said Frontier would take on too much debt. Now, the PSC's staff says concerns remain regarding Frontier's finances and if the company can spend enough on network repair and maintenance.

"Frontier's stock closed at $5.27 per share on June 28, 2018; in May, 2009, at the time of the filing of the transaction case, the share price was $110," a staff filing said.

A report from investment research firm Value Line, according to the filing, says Frontier has long-term debt payments of $2.04 billion in 2021 and nearly $2.69 billion in 2022.


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