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.

Filed Under: dialup, fcc, landlines, phone lines, residential market, telcos

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:57am

    Devil's Advocate

    This devil's advocate isn't about to try to justify Frontier and it's ilk. This devil's advocate is one of those unheard voices that argue that everyone should very seriously consider how unreliable the infrastructure and political processes are BEFORE choosing to depend on them.

    U. S. history has reliably demonstrated that those people who are most likely to prosper in the long term are self-reliant. Be prepared to take care of your self. Advanced technology is can be nice, properly used, but be prepared to do without it.

    Yes, there are the short term scum who can make a quick buck with a scam line or a pump & dump. These humanoid roaches tend to scatter when it all drops in the pot. Before emulating them, answer the following question: "Can you scatter fast enough, profitably?".

    Even and especially be skeptical of health care. When that voodoo shaman called a doctor tells you to have some high tech device shoved into your body, or your life depends on some high tech measuring device, then, BUYER BEWARE. More often that the shaman would like you to know, he is doing nothing more than covering his behind against lawyers. (A pox on both doctors and lawyers).

    In the end, if you think you can prosper by depending on high tech, out of your control, then that is your decision. Be prepared to suffer the consequences. No crying to those of us who carefully evaluate and are very choosy over how much high tech and infrastructure we depend on. Those of us who are prudent owe you no debt. Further, who the hell do you think you are? in that, when all else fails, you imagine that you have some right to prey on we who are prudent and sensible. We are neither sub-humans nor slaves/serfs to you of the financial/liberal self-exalted who demand the best of everything and no accountability.

    Yes, Frontier is an outstanding example of how badly the financial/liberal self-exalted can bungle things. (California is a more graphic example).

    Nonetheless, GROW UP and face reality. Your life is yours, live by stupidity and selfishness then die by stupidity and selfishness.

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