The West Virginia Public Service Commission has a thick file on Frontier Communications.
The PSC, which regulates public utilities in the state, received nearly 2,000 complaints about Frontier just last year. The customers were upset about the quality of phone and internet service from Frontier.*
West Virginia customers are not alone. An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Commerce in 2018 found that Frontier “failed to provide adequate, reliable phone service to Minnesota customers.” Last Month, Minnesota announced another investigation into Frontier’s “billing and customer service practices.”
The New York Public Service Commission determined last year that “several Frontier Communications subsidiaries have significant service-quality problems, including escalating complaint rates, lengthy repair durations, and localized reliability issues.”
There’s even a website—frontier-sucks.com—where angry customers vent and exchange horror stories about the service.
The company is in deep financial trouble, with $16.3 billion long-term debt and $356 million in debt payments due March 15. Bloomberg reported recently that Frontier is “asking creditors to help craft a turnaround deal that includes filing for bankruptcy by the middle of March.”
Frontier released a cryptic statement about its financial condition. “Frontier’s business and operations are solid and serving our customers remains our top priority. As we have said publicly, Frontier is evaluating its capital structure with an eye to reducing debt so as to be able to better serve our customers.”
West Virginia PSC Chair Charlotte Lane told me on Talkline last week that the agency is on top of the issue. Last year, it ordered a management audit after repeated service complaints. That audit is scheduled to be finished by March 19.
Lane said the agency will use the audit to determine a way forward to improve service for Frontier’s 300,000 customers in the state. “I think we have a lot of power and we will exercise it,” she said.
Analysts believe Frontier over expanded over the last decade, spending $10 billion in cable and broadband just as customers were starting to cut the cord. Additionally, Frontier’s purchases included some aging wired and rural networks, such as the Verizon system in West Virginia.
However, Frontier knew what it was getting into when it moved into West Virginia and the company made a commitment to quality service. The landlines remain vital in West Virginia because many parts of the state do not have reliable cell service.
West Virginia customers don’t care much about debt restructuring by their communications company. All they want is what they are paying for—reliable service. The responsibility rests with the PSC to ensure that happens.
*(The West Virginia PSC does not regulate internet service. The agency forwards those complaints to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.)