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
    anon, 24 Feb 2020 @ 6:29am

    the problem isn't Frontier

    The problem isn't Frontier, its the FCC that allowed Frontier to get to this point. Frontier is just the best/worst example.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 6:33am

    Who owns Frontier?

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

  3. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:07am

    The problem is Frontier’s awful track record, the FCC’s inability (or unwillingness) to hold Frontier accountable, and lawmakers’ kneecapping of government regulations at all levels. You can’t get the first two without the third, so fixing the first two starts with fixing the third.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:23am

    The thought of using the same service for internet connectivity and for telephone service makes me sad. You lose any redundancy. How do you inform the company that your internet service is out? Call them?

    But then, maybe it's just that I'm a dinosaur. 40 years ago, the cable TV company wasn't offering phone service. But then, 40 years ago, you didn't have cell phones, either.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:30am

    Re:

    You lose any redundancy.

    When the services all run on the same poles, when a pole gets taken out, so do all the services reliant on that pole, even if they use different cables/fibres.

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

  6. identicon
    tz, 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:31am

    Getting blood out of a Turnip?

    or is it TURN/IP. Frontier is on the edge fo bankruptcy, and that might be the reason they aren't fixing anything. Yes, it is a problem, but making them go deeper and sooner into bankruptcy won't help (so vendors and contractors won't be paid, so why should they do work?). Yet this sounds like another Debt Death spiral, what killed Radio Shack, Toys R Us, and ShopKo. The revenue raised is going to pay bondholders, not to pay to fix infrastructure. That is a matter for the SEC and Congress, not the FCC. The FCC can't magically force fixes. I'm not sure what they can do except fine them into chapter 7 bankruptcy so no one will get service until the pieces are sold off, and who would want them?

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

  7. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    "The problem is Frontier’s awful track record, the FCC’s inability (or unwillingness) to hold Frontier accountable, and lawmakers’ kneecapping of government regulations at all levels."

    Symptoms, mainly.

    The real rot is the part of the US being disinclined to force core infrastructure providers to apply bandwidth-lease agreements. As a result every major bandwidth provider will own an untouchable fiefdom they will never be motivated to upgrade or maintain beyond absolute necessity.

    It's ironic, really. The US has allowed unrestricted market economics to devour the basic platforms enabling actual market economy, leaving it with several segments of business where monopoly is the one way left.

    The lawmakers being for sale, the FCC being example exhibit A of regulatory capture, and Frontier being allowed to do anything short of actually murdering their clients for money all stems from the fact that the US holds the religious belief that regulating what corporations may and may not do will turn the country into a communist dictatorship.

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

  8. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:50am

    Re: Getting blood out of a Turnip?

    "Frontier is on the edge fo bankruptcy, and that might be the reason they aren't fixing anything. "

    You KNOW the company is incompetent if they end up on the edge of bankruptcy while still holding monopoly supplier status in their area of influence.

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

  9. 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.

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

  10. icon
    Bodger (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 7:59am

    Root Causes

    As a casual observer who is dealing with another truly crappy provider named AT&T, it certainly seems that the only real roadblock to action is Pai and the other Trumpian appointees and GOP-vetted judges. There are any number of governmental failings and, in one way or another, most of them can be traced back to a single source.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:00am

    Frontier's situation is just a symptom of the dysfunctional telecom market.

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

  12. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    Frontier's situation is just a symptom of the dysfunctional political system.

    FTFY

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:17am

    Re: the problem isn't Frontier

    There's a massive difference between "allowed" and "responsible". The FCC failing to regulate Frontier does not take away Frontier's agency or absolve them of responsibility for doing things that were wrong.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:18am

    big slow ISPs

    imho it is exactly this kind of market conditions that SpaceX is targeting with their upcoming StarLink internet service.

    Those lumbering slow ISPs won't know what hit them and by the time they wake up and smell the competion in their backyard it will be too late.

    Rumors are StarLink internet service will cost around $100 per month and will get to speeds of almost 1 Gbps.

    The first test batch of StarLink satellites has already demonstrated in 2018 that it can reach speeds of 610 mbps ... now imagine what a fully deployed StarLink mesh can do.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:20am

    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.'

    Then make it one for all parties involved. Fix liability law! If the legal system considered that, when broken infrastructure causes a life-saving 911 call to not go through, that the person's blood is on the hands of the decision-makers at the telco, you'd better believe they'd fix things up ASAP!

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:22am

    Re: big slow ISPs

    Speed is a good start, but satellites will never solve latency. As a Google engineer once put it, "the speed of light really sucks!" This makes satellite internet unsuitable for a lot of important problem domains; the only thing that actually works well for both speed and latency is fiber.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 8:48am

    Re: Devil's Advocate

    A fully self sufficient life is not possible once you get past the hunter gatherer stage, and then its only really possible for small groups. So like it or not you are dependent on others, and the political system.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 9:30am

    Re: the problem isn't Frontier

    Who ELECTED these people who appointed these evil regulators? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!!

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

  19. icon
    justok (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 11:06am

    Final

    The Failing Frontier: Where no modem has cost you more.

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

  20. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 11:41am

    Re: Devil's Advocate

    ... said the person typing on a computer they didn't make(though it's possible they did assemble), on a platform they don't own, over an internet connection and network they didn't build, but given the paranoia regarding doctors I can't say any of the rest of it's a surprise.

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

  21. icon
    ECA (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 11:42am

    Thius isnt good.

    I dont know how many know about it, but The HARDLINE telco is very important.
    AND its heavily subsidized for REASONS.
    Also there are a TONS of regulations and requirements to BE in the business.
    They are ALSO the only group REQUIRED to keep our privacy...there is nothing for the rest of these companies to KEEP our info safe/quiet/protected.

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

  22. identicon
    teka, 24 Feb 2020 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: big slow ISPs

    The design and placement of the Starlink system is meant to limit latency to something the same or better than common common connections for most people. Thus the low orbit satellites by the truckload instead of single point sources thirty times farther out.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Devil's Advocate

    Have your written your manifesto yet?

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 12:23pm

    Re: big slow ISPs

    I am beginning to think that these comments about said service are spam.

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

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Re:

    How do you inform the company that your internet service is out? Call them?

    Last time, I called their toll-free number from a payphone—no coin required. But that phone is gone...

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

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Re: the problem isn't Frontier

    Chill out. Nobody needs to die. But we could ship them all off to some unpopulated location to fend for themselves as was done with Australia. I hear Antarctica has no natives and no population to speak of...

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

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 3:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: the problem isn't Frontier

    What have the penguins done to deserve having those people dumped on them?

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2020 @ 4:30pm

    All the FCC does is bupkis. Because all Richard Bennett ever does is kis someone's bup.

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

  29. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Feb 2020 @ 9:41pm

    Re:

    Not true, they only sit back and do nothing when it comes to serving the public, they are very energetic when it comes to helping out their buddies/bosses in the telecom industry.

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

  30. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 25 Feb 2020 @ 12:06am

    Re: Devil's Advocate

    The phone lines weren't quite so unreliable before Frontier squatted on them and let them rot.

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2020 @ 4:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: the problem isn't Frontier

    Yeah. Bullying penguins is not a good idea.

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

  32. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Feb 2020 @ 5:36am

    Re: Devil's Advocate

    "In the end, if you think you can prosper by depending on high tech, out of your control, then that is your decision."

    Not any longer. In order to exercise that "choice" you speak of you would have to - literally - leave the US or spend a great deal more money than anyone else just to obtain the freedom to choose. When it comes to infrastructure, you're usually screwed since those are all, by logical necessity, monopolies.

    For anyone who can do neither of the above the "choice" becomes one of which cave you'll choose to spend your winter in and whether you'll hunt and kill a deer or a moose to make pants out of.

    In other news every other country in the G20 has government act as the arbiter which ensures that any entity offering services must fulfill a certain minimum quality. Those countries end up looking, with horror, at the US slowly turning into a part of the 3rd world.

    I'm not sure that *"Don't live in the US" was what you wanted to say but that is, in effect, what you proposed actually means.

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

  33. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Feb 2020 @ 5:39am

    Re: Re:

    "Frontier's situation is just a symptom of the dysfunctional political system"

    That's what the OP said, though. No need to say it twice.

    There's some old musty definition of what you call a system of politics wholly enmeshed with the corporate one...

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

  34. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Feb 2020 @ 5:44am

    Re: Re: Re: big slow ISPs

    "The design and placement of the Starlink system is meant to limit latency to something the same or better than common common connections for most people."

    If it scales, you mean. The laws of electromagnetism has strict limits on how far a radio signal can go, and over the distances we're talking about, you aren't going to achieve very high bandwidth using laser. At the satellite density you envision, just laying fiber on the ground will be the better option by far.

    Satellite constellations are...unlikely...to succeed in the first place until the time when we can start using quantum entanglement to transfer information. At which point whether the sender and receiver are in orbit or not isn't going to affect what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance".

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

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2020 @ 6:25am

    if (god forbid) someone actually dies can the FCC be sued? If I'm responsible for ensuring my dog doesn't bite someone and it does I get in trouble. In much the same way shouldn't the FCC be responsible for ensuring the telecom businesses comply with standards? And if they fail to take basic/common sense actions they can be held responsible when people get hurt/die?

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

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2020 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re:

    Exactly. All Richard Bennett ever does is kis someone's bup. He knows there'll be Reese's Pieces coming out of Daddy Pai when he does.

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

  37. identicon
    teka, 28 Feb 2020 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: big slow ISPs

    I am sure you know better than the engineers themselves.

    "SpaceX’s Nov. 2016 application to the Federal Communications Commission says Starlink will offer speeds of up to a gigabit per second (although it doesn’t break out upload speeds) at latencies of just 25 to 35 milliseconds. That would make the service a much more compelling alternative to higher-end cable and fiber connections."

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


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