Frontier Hammered By Minnesota AG For Its Refusal To Repair Its Broadband Network

from the don't-try-too-hard dept

For years we've explored how the nation's phone companies don't really even want to be in the 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.

This dynamic often results in some absurd dysfunction. Like in West Virginia, where incumbent telco Frontier has repeatedly been busted in a series of scandals involving substandard service and the misuse of taxpayer money. The graft and corruption in the state is so severe, state leaders have buried reports, and, until recently, a Frontier executive did double duty as a state representative without anybody in the state thinking that was a conflict of interest.

Things aren't going any better for Frontier in Minnesota, where the state AG just issued a scathing 133 page report accusing the company of all manner of dubious behavior, including letting outages go on for months on end without repairs. The report doesn't pull punches in accusing Frontier of violating at least 35 state laws and state guidelines, and routinely neglecting paying customers, putting some customers with medical conditions at risk:

The findings of this investigation detail an extraordinary situation, where customers have suffered with outages of months, or more, when the law requires telephone utilities to make all reasonable efforts to prevent interruptions of service. When interruptions occur, telephone utilities are to restore service “with the shortest possible delay.” Frontier customers with these outages include those with family members with urgent medical needs, such as pacemakers monitored by their medical teams via the customer’s landline.

This report, which was based on 1,000 customer complaints and seven different public hearings, paints a picture of a company that consistently let its networks fall apart, refused to upgrade or repair customer equipment on a timely basis, routinely and aggressively engaged in fraudulent billing practices, and repeatedly ignored customer complaints about all of it. The report includes photos showing Frontier's network gear in various states of neglect:

Or installs where company lines were draped casually through yards, over fences, and even over propane tanks:

Again, if you've followed similar stories focused on Verizon, this kind of behavior is the norm, not some errant exception for the nation's phone companies. And while some states actually hold telcos feet to the fire occasionally, there's a long roster of states (Tennessee and West Virginia quickly come to mind) where the "solution" to these problems has been to completely neuter local regulatory oversight at incumbent monopoly request. This kind of blind deregulation, as you may have noticed, doesn't actually fix anything when dealing with natural, apathetic monopolies.

Again, this kind of apathy hurts the customers of these companies, who've made it pretty clear they no longer really want to be in the residential broadband business. As apathetic telcos hang up on unwanted customers, it's creating a bigger monopoly for cable operators across huge swaths of the country. That, in turn, only ensures that prices remain high and customer service remains an afterthought. And again, the Ajit Pai FCC's tendency to rubber stamp every and all industry desires without holding anybody accountable for anything pretty clearly isn't helping.

Filed Under: broadband, disrepair, minnesota
Companies: frontier


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 4:48am

    Good start, now about that follow-up...

    The report doesn't pull punches in accusing Frontier of violating at least 35 state laws and state guidelines, and routinely neglecting paying customers, putting some customers with medical conditions at risk:

    Violation of 35 state laws and regulations, 'customer service' that would make Comcast proud, wonder what the result will be?

    Wait a second, the mists are clearing, I can see it now... a few 'donations' will change hands, a few wrists will be slapped(with said slaps to be delivered at a to-be-determined point in the future), and the matter will quickly be buried with a declaration that it will be 'looked in to' some more.

    You don't offer 'customer service' of that caliber if you think for a moment that you stand any chance of actually facing any sort of penalty for it, and while I'd love to be proven wrong... I don't for so much as one second expect to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:42am

      Re: Good start, now about that follow-up...

      You don't offer 'customer service' of that caliber if you think for a moment that you stand any chance of actually facing any sort of penalty for it

      Yeah. It's a weird definition of "hammered" to mean that someone wrote a report with harsh words. We already know they were doing a bad job; I came here to see some hammering.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Robert Beckman, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:51am

    Legal protections are regulations

    Please stop calling regulations that protect telcos from liability for breach of contract “deregulation.”

    Those are regulations. Deregulation would be a bill that removes all of those regulations (allowing local municipalities to compete).

    I understand this may be shorthand for “special regulation that prevents regular law from applying,” but we have another special term for that. Try using “regulatory capture.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:32am

      Re: Legal protections are regulations

      Like many things, there are good regulations and bad regulations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 8:34am

      Re: Legal protections are regulations

      I believe, typically, regulations are rules put in place by a regulatory authority established by legislature, but the rules themselves are not the product of the legislature. For instance, while the FTC is called a regulator, they don't enforce advertising regulations, but advertising laws. They don't have broad rule making authority, and so generally aren't enforcing regulations, but industry specific laws.

      So your complaint's validity depends on how that legal exemption was put in place. Its only a regulation if it was put in place by the regulator and is within their charter.

      Deregulation occurs when the regulator removes regulations or the legislature removes regulatory authority, in whole or part, of the regulator. I am unsure of the situation you cite and it wouldn't fall under either of these categories. I assume it happened in one of the states Karl mentioned as blindly deregulating, but given I believe they also engaged in the above behavior, I am unsure what your complaint about the categorization is in reference to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:14am

    Libertarian Utopia

    You want working broadband? Nothing is stopping you from running your own cables. This is the promised land!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      MathFox, 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:26am

      Re: Libertarian Utopia

      I had trouble convincing my neighbour that I should be allowed to dig through his lawn for my broadband fiber...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:30am

        Re: Re: Libertarian Utopia

        Not to mention the street. The city was very upset by that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 3:01pm

        Re: Re: Libertarian Utopia

        You are doing it wrong, you get your neighbours to join you in installing broadband for the whole area. You then form a corporation to own and manage the network for the benefit of the area.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 3:52pm

          Re: Re: Re: Libertarian Utopia

          ... but humans are incapable of voluntarily cooperating & organizing themselves for accomplishing things -- unless they are controlled, regulated & commanded by superior government-humans

          think of all the brilliant people in Congress & state legislatures; obey and praise them

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:29pm

          Re: Re: Re: Libertarian Utopia

          You are doing it wrong, you get your neighbours to join you...

          That's how cable companies originally started. People got together to share big antennas. It was called Community Antenna Television, or CATV.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:34am

    But seriously....

    ... what can actually be DONE about this?

    I'm in NY. Spectrum was "thrown out of NY" months ago.

    What actually happened?

    My Spectrum bill went up seven dollars.

    Nothing else seems to have changed.

    There doesn't seem to be a downside to violating state laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 7:41am

      Re: But seriously....

      There doesn't seem to be a downside to violating state laws.

      There isn't any.

      Besides, as we are constantly reminded - corporations don't exist, so laws don't apply to them. </s>

      State laws are just part of the calculated cost of doing business. How much money do you save by flaunting them against the possible fines? If a company can save a billion dollars a year for ten years, then pay a $500 million dollar fine to attone - they are coming out ahead of the game. Figure in an annual donation of campaign contributions and hookers, and they know they are untouchable.

      Campaign finance reform would be a good first step in fixing this mess. Without astronomical contributions regulators might have an incentive to regulate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      solvang, 14 Jan 2019 @ 9:34am

      Re: But seriously....

      ".. what can actually be DONE about this?"


      The solution is to establish a voluntary, competitive free market in consumer telecommunications

      That requires federal/state/local government to cease their massive interventions into this industry

      That requires the American public to understand basic economics and the proper role of government


      Thus, nothing can "actually" be done about this problem

      (fretting and whining seems the strongly preferred alternative to actual problem solving)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 9:45am

        Re: Re: But seriously....

        The solution is to establish a voluntary, competitive free market in consumer telecommunications

        Point to one country with a decent, universal telecoms service that uses that approach.

        What is required is to deal with the corruption and cronyism that defines US politics and regulator appointment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 10:14am

          Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

          Sherman, I need the key to the Wayback Machine...

          Anyone else here remember the breakup of Ma Bell?

          THAT is the level of legal action that will be required here.

          You can't just take, oh, say Comcast and tell them that you're effectively Nationalizing their entire infrastructure.

          Poles, lines, switching stations, repeaters, servers, etc.

          Which is why NY "throwing Spectrum out" was such a joke. There's no alternative to them. NY would either have to buy all their infrastructure or mediate a third party takeover and buyout.

          Whining about how it's all a right- or left- wing plot, or that it's "only because XYZ politician(s) are being bribed" is a pointless waste of hot air.

          That's just tossing blame about, not resolving ANYTHING.

          Sadly, about the most I can see being done in anything resembling the near future is to simply stop giving them tax breaks to forestall the continuance, and when assessing a fine actually sit down and figure out how much they profited, then double it.

          Of course, then you have to figure out how to actually COLLECT that fine, as they'll simply ignore it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 10:31am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

            That does not solve the root cause of the problem, which is regulatory capture due to the way campaign contributions and appointment of regulators are handled in the US. Breaking up the companies into smaller companies, each wit their own local monopoly does not create completion, other than that of corporate manoeuvrer to see who can become the national monopoly again.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Mason Wheeler (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 12:06pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

              Breaking up the companies into smaller companies, each wit their own local monopoly does not create completion

              Yeah, the Ma Bell breakup was done bizarrely wrong in that sense. Instead of multiple regional monopolies, they should have broken it the opposite way, into multiple national entities that had to compete one with another.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 12:53pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

                they should have broken it the opposite way, into multiple national entities that had to compete one with another.

                That doesn't work, when each company has to install duplicated infrastructure to serve customers. Sooner, rather, regional monopolies form, as one company gains the upper hand in a region.

                On of the causes of problems is that competition between phone and cable is an accident of history, where two disjoint analogue technologies have converged an the same digital technology, and the phone companies have lost the customers in the urban areas to cable and the ubiquitous mobile phone. That impacts the rural areas because the urban subsidy has shrunk in size. With fibre, the merging of cable and Internet infrastructure are long overdue, but that requires a strong regulator to oversee the process to prevent the establishment of gate keepers to the Internet along the cable TV model.

                Infra structure is best dealt with as a regulated monopoly that is available to competition at the service level. This has been recognized in the U.K, by the formation of open reach to manage the line plant over which various companies offer phone and Internet services. BT is now a service provider that does not manage the copper or fibre networks, because our regulator saw that that was necessary to prevent monopoly at the service level.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            James Burkhardt (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 12:11pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

            >>Of course, then you have to figure out how to actually COLLECT that fine, as they'll simply ignore it.

            Which solves the Nationalization problem. Seizing assets to pay fines when they aren't paid is a real thing.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Bamboo Harvester (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 1:49pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

              This isn't a matter of getting the local Sheriff to tow the offenders car in seizure.

              Seizing their infrastructure (assets) won't work. They'll not only take the hit, they'll sue the seizing authority, blame the loss of service on that authority, and eventually the authority will surrender.

              Then the offenders will not just get their assets back, they'll both sue for the damages incurred because they couldn't maintain that equipment, but of their loss of income while they couldn't charge the now-disconnected users for service.

              Again, there's a solution out there somewhere, but nobody's found it yet. And whining and fingerpointing may make people "feel better", but they come nowhere near addressing the problem.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 2:10pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

                Here's a solution - Board of Directors and CEO are directly liable for any fines incurred, and face criminal charges should they be unpaid.

                Resignation does not avoid culpability.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:42pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

              Seizing assets to pay fines when they aren't paid is a real thing.

              Yeah. For the little people.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

            You can't just take, oh, say Comcast and tell them that you're effectively Nationalizing their entire infrastructure.
            Poles, lines, switching stations, repeaters, servers, etc.

            You don't have to take their infrastructure. All you have to do is tell them to remove it from any public property. Anything left behind after some set time would be considered abandoned property. Of course, you could also make them an offer to buy it if they didn't want to remove it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 5:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

          ... the U.S. (prior to 1913)


          utilities-regulation is not a commandment from God

          everything started and prospered without any "regulation"

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2019 @ 5:46pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But seriously....

            You are comparing raisin to pumpkins. Small local and with incomplete coverage, is very different from global and universal. Somewhere along the growth path focus changes from gaining as many new customers as possible to gaining as much income from a customer base in a saturated market.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 10:39am

    Lets see...

    City building inspectors? where?
    County inspectors?? where?
    State inspectors?? where??

    So they have a franchise that isnt doing its job?
    They have loose wires hanging all over??
    Arnt there supposed to be SOME inspections for WHO is doing what? Even with a Franchise contract, there are rules..

    Or is the truth of the matter, about HOW corps have taken over the USA, 1 step at a time, true..
    I have a few NOT so nice ideas..Lets goto the States reps, and take down a telephone pole...lets drop there cable/phone lines across those Beautiful Grass and plants.. Lets dig up a few yards and pull up the underground lines..

    And when done, LETS head to the capital..I think I can find a few friends with D8's and other heavy vehicles..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dan S, 14 Jan 2019 @ 6:36pm

    The reality is that traditional residential internet does not generate enough revenue to attract real competition. I work for a small phone (lec) and internet company in up state New york. We recently upgraded our entire copper infrastructure to fiber but it was only possible due to a state grant. The revenue generated by residential services would take decade to pay for installing the fiber and network upgrades to support it. One service call to repair a down customer can erase several months worth of profit on that service.
    The company has branched our of our local exchange area running fiber around between two cities offering phone and internet services to only business customers where we can sell our superior network reliability, speed and customer service at a top dollar. PRIs SIP trunks, MPLS networks, point to point ethernet connections and commercial grade internet can generate good revenue. Also the competition is horrible between Verizon and Spectrum. People constantly ask if we can provide them residential internet and their is nothing stoping the company from doing so except that price residental customers would be willing to pay is not worth the cost of running fiber hanging the drops installing the equipment and having technical staff answering their service calls on why their PC isn't working today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 Jan 2019 @ 8:30pm

      Re:

      The reality is that traditional residential internet does not generate enough revenue to attract real competition.

      Which would seem to be a pretty good argument in favor of treating it like any other utility like water and power, where the aim is consistent service without a need to constantly ask 'is this profitable?' because it's just something the government(local or national) does.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 14 Jan 2019 @ 9:14pm

    Conflict, what conflict?

    "a Frontier executive did double duty as a state representative without anybody in the state thinking that was a conflict of interest. "

    What is this conflict of which you speak? Conflict? Let's talk about how we're going to bring cable to the moon. Now that's a real topic of discussion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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