Frontier Communications customers are reporting more outages and longer repair times, and state government officials have decided to investigate.
NY Public Service Commission (PSC) staff reported "that several Frontier Communications subsidiaries have significant service-quality problems, including escalating complaint rates, lengthy repair durations, and localized network reliability issues," a PSC announcement Thursday said.
PSC staff is seeking more detailed information from Frontier on customer trouble reports and "will work with Frontier to develop and implement a plan to improve poor localized network reliability conditions," the announcement said.
Frontier's problems go far beyond New York. The company last week reported lower revenue and a $5.45 billion goodwill impairment charge, and it warned investors that its revenue will continue to decline in future quarters. Frontier has 3.63 million broadband subscribers in 29 states, down from 3.86 million a year ago. Frontier's employee count has also dropped from 21,718 to 19,872 in the past year.
New York isn't the only state investigating the company's service. An investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Department this year found that Frontier has failed to properly maintain its telecom network and failed to give refunds or bill credits to customers affected by outages that have sometimes lasted for months.
Frontier's website says it has "invested nearly $540 million since 2011 in the New York network," allowing it "to offer faster broadband speeds to approximately 85,000 New York households in the upgraded service areas."
But Frontier's average Internet download speeds in New York are just 7.4Mbps, by far the lowest of any major provider in the state, according to Broadband Now. The maximum speed offered by Frontier in New York is 50Mbps, the broadband research group says.
Frontier serves 221,000 customer lines in New York and lost 30,000 customers in 2018, the PSC staff report said.
It's not unusual for old copper networks to offer slow Internet speeds and poor reliability for both phone and Internet access. But the PSC report said Frontier's problems go beyond the norm:
Staff has become increasingly concerned with the service quality of Frontier, especially in its Citizens, Frontier Rochester, Frontier New York, and Ausable Valley subsidiaries. The PSC Complaint rate has significantly increased in the last several years for these Frontier companies. In addition, Staff has responded to a significant number of network reliability complaints and inquiries from local, county, and State government representatives, including emergency response entities. These complaints include long repair durations and repeated out-of-service conditions, as well as Internet access and speed issues.
The report listed service quality statistics for 61 phone companies, of which eight are Frontier subsidiaries. The PSC report also raised concerns about Taconic Telephone Corp. and Windstream but devoted the most time to Frontier. The report said the PSC was already performing "a multi-month review of Taconic's performance" and is following up with Windstream about its statistics "to determine if more focus is needed."
One standard the PSC uses to judge network quality is the percentage of "central office entities" or switches that have 5.5 or fewer customer trouble reports per hundred access lines per month. That isn't a hard standard to meet, as all but eight of the 61 phone companies "achieved the minimum service requirement in 100% of their measurement opportunities," the PSC said. Four of the eight that failed to do so were the Frontier subsidiaries that the PSC is concerned about.
Frontier's "Ausable Valley had the lowest value in that column with 87.5% of its measurement opportunities met in 2018," the report said. Frontier's Citizens subsidiary clocked in at 98.2%, Frontier Communications of New York was at 99.17%, and Frontier of Rochester hit 98.6 percent.
Another measure is the number of annual complaints made directly to the PSC. Most complaints are made only to the companies themselves and not to the state government, so this rate tends to be very low. Only seven of the 61 companies had any complaints made directly to the PSC during 2018, and three of those were Frontier subsidiaries.
There were 1.025 complaints per thousand lines during the year for Frontier Communications of New York in 2018, 0.496 per thousand for Frontier of Rochester, and 0.412 per thousand for Frontier's Citizens division. These are all higher than the state's recommended level of 0.075 PSC complaints per 1,000 access lines.
More data is needed to figure out exactly what's going on in each part of Frontier's network, the PSC report said. The PSC said it intends to "identify the root causes of recurring outages, as well as develop a plan to improve network reliability performance."
The report also said:
Staff will request that Frontier perform an analysis of its customer trouble report and timeliness of repair data at a level more geographically granular than the central office to identify the localized causes of recurring outages, and [staff will] interview its local supervisors and technicians to help identify network plant/facility elements that are substantial contributors to poor network reliability performance. Staff will work with Frontier to review the findings of this data analysis and to develop a plan to resolve the recurring outages and will report to the Commission if further action becomes necessary.
When contacted by Ars, Frontier said it takes the PSC "concerns seriously and is committed to delivering quality service to the New York communities and customers we serve. We will review the report and respond to the Commission in the appropriate forum."