FCC Does Bupkis As US Telco Networks Fall Apart, Putting Lives At Risk
from the broken-markets-and-apathy dept
For years we’ve explored how the nation’s phone companies no longer really want to be in the residential broadband business. They routinely refuse to upgrade their networks, yet often lobby to ensure nobody else can deliver broadband in these neglected footprints either. Telcos, in particular, have a bizarre disdain for their paying customers, delivering the bare minimum (slow DSL) at the highest rates they can possibly charge without a full-scale consumer revolt. It’s not surprising, then, that many telco DSL customers are fleeing to cable, assuming they even have a second option for broadband.
But for many consumers, an apathetic telco remains their only connectivity option. If you’re a customer of Frontier Communications — the nation’s fourth biggest telco — it’s not a pretty picture. And in some cases it’s downright dangerous.
From Minnesota to West Virginia, Frontier has spent the last few years under numerous investigations for not only refusing to upgrade its aging networks, but also for refusing to fix them. A recent 133 page report from Minnesota’s AG made it clear that consumers with medical conditions have been left disconnected for weeks by the dysfunctional telco. The same problem is plaguing Frontier customers in Wisconsin. According to a recent letter to the company (pdf) by Senator Tammy Baldwin, the company’s “service” in the state includes routine 911 outages, and DSL and phone line outages that can last for up to a month:
“A recent analysis of complaints to the DATCP [Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection] in 2018 and 2019, conducted by a Wisconsin television news station found that individuals waited an average of more than three weeks for Frontier to restore landline service after an outage. A number of those filing complaints reported residing in areas without reliable wireless service, leaving them without alternative communication options. I am particularly concerned that many of the affected individuals were elderly and reported medical concerns.”
Old people: who needs ’em? Am I right?
Frontier, teetering on the cusp of bankruptcy after its massive and bungled 2015 megadeal with Verizon, provides service across a 29-state footprint and the story is the same for most of them: sky high prices, prolonged outages, terrible customer service, and endless headaches. And so far, the Ajit Pai FCC, as it has on most consumer telecom issues, has refused to hold the company accountable whatsoever. Baldwin continues to reach out to the FCC, pointing out that this market dysfunction is actually at the point where people’s lives are being put at risk:
“Regretfully, my office continues to be contacted by constituents who have ongoing complaints and concern for service outages, including a lack of ability to complete calls to 911 and rely on the Life Alert system. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, it has fielded these concerns from across the state. Unfortunately, failure to connect with 911 has reportedly already occurred during life-threatening situations, such as the choking of a child, and the collapsing of a shed on a gentleman during a heavy snow storm.
Residents are rightly fearful that this lack of ability to communicate to 911 in moments of emergency may eventually result in loss of life. Further, according to local media reporting of January 30, 2020, these concerns are widespread, and multiple Wisconsin residents feel that this is a ‘matter of life and death.'”
Granted the core problem here is that Frontier, like so many US telecoms, enjoys both little to no meaningful competition, but comical levels of regulatory capture as well. That was most recently exemplified by the company’s decision to try and charge its customers a modem rental fee even if consumers had already paid for a modem (the Pai FCC was utterly apathetic there, as well). And while the Pai FCC might be prodded to eventually act on Frontier for its glaring 911 failures, it’s extremely unlikely that the agency will hold it accountable for much of anything else, meaning this sort of dysfunction will only continue indefinitely.