PETERSBURG, W.Va. — When you have a conversation with Grant County Emergency Services and 911 Director Peggy Bobo Alt her passion for her job is immediately clear. However, the lady who has dedicated her life to helping those in her county through times of crises is worried she can’t make an impact on the issue of unreliable phone service in many parts of her county.
“I personally can’t take it anymore. I’ve got to do whatever I can do to try and help people,” said Alt. “It doesn’t do any good to have proper 9-1-1 service, which we have, when people can’t pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1.”
Her frustration is directed at Frontier Communications, which provides most of the landline service in Grant County. Phone outages are an issue Alt has been battling for at least two years and it’s a problem she says has left her frustrated, but even worse it’s left many of the county’s residents in a dangerous place, without a land line and living in a place where cell coverage doesn’t exist.
“I’ve had nightmares and I’ve cried more than once in the last two years imagining an elderly woman and an elderly man, standing in their yard watching their house burn down because they didn’t have telephone service to call for help,” Alt explained. “Just recently that did happen. It happened. I’ts real and not make believe.”
The elderly man in the case was under hospice care and his family tried repeatedly to get phone service restored so they would be able to call a nurse. Alt said when the fire started a family member had to get in the car and drive to an area with cell coverage to seek emergency help. It’s not the only example. Alt cited another man living alone in a remote area with the phone service out. Neighbors checked on him and discovered his oxygen level had dropped to a dangerously low point. Although in a dire condition, the man was unable to summons help because his phone didn’t work.
“This is not supposed to be happening. This is third-world stuff. We’re not supposed to be living like this,” Alt said.
Frontier is the target of numerous complains at the Public Service Commission. So many, the PSC in 2018 took the unusual step to order an independent audit of the company. In a press release detailing the commission’s decision, the agency said this of the ordered audit:
“The audit is to focus on the current status of the copper network; adequacy of staffing levels dedicated to the copper network; adequacy of capital investment in the copper network since 2010; adequacy of policies and procedures impacting the quality of service; adequacy of metrics currently in place to measure quality of service; impact of the declining customer base on internal cash flow from operations relative to historic and current copper infrastructure maintenance and capital investment; and the impact of the current bargaining agreement and ongoing relations between management and labor on customer service quality and response timing. The audit is also to make appropriate recommendations for addressing those areas that need to be improved.”
However, in June the commission rejected Frontier’s choice of firms to perform the audit, citing the company used only price as the sole criteria in their selection. Last week, Frontier filed a response to the rejection and proposed issuing another request for proposal for the audit with more detailed parameters of what the job will entail. The PSC has also ordered Frontier to pay for the audit.
Alt has filed a formal complaint with the PSC and has also contacted the Federal Communications Commission in Washington D.C. Desperately seeking answers, Alt indicated she’s received some help from the office of Congressman David McKinley urging the correct division of the FCC to put pressure on the company to make the necessary repairs and restore reliability.
The regulatory remedies are moving forward, but not nearly fast enough for Alt. She is worried eventually the inability to reach a firehouse, rescue squad, or law enforcement will ultimately result in someone’s unnecessary death.
“What really scares me, is the infrastructure is the problem,” Alt said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix it, but I do know it’s got to be done. Somebody has got to wake-up and realize it.”
MetroNews contacted Frontier to seek more information about the complaints and claims by Alt and others, but phone calls were not returned.