Frontier Hammered By Minnesota AG For Its Refusal To Repair Its Broadband Network

For years we've explored how the nation's phone companies don't really even want to be in the 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.

This dynamic often results in some absurd dysfunction. Like in West Virginia, where incumbent telco Frontier has repeatedly been busted in a series of scandals involving substandard service and the misuse of taxpayer money. The graft and corruption in the state is so severe, state leaders have buried reports, and, until recently, a Frontier executive did double duty as a state representative without anybody in the state thinking that was a conflict of interest.

Things aren't going any better for Frontier in Minnesota, where the state AG just issued a scathing 133 page report accusing the company of all manner of dubious behavior, including letting outages go on for months on end without repairs. The report doesn't pull punches in accusing Frontier of violating at least 35 state laws and state guidelines, and routinely neglecting paying customers, putting some customers with medical conditions at risk:

The findings of this investigation detail an extraordinary situation, where customers have suffered with outages of months, or more, when the law requires telephone utilities to make all reasonable efforts to prevent interruptions of service. When interruptions occur, telephone utilities are to restore service “with the shortest possible delay.” Frontier customers with these outages include those with family members with urgent medical needs, such as pacemakers monitored by their medical teams via the customer’s landline.

This report, which was based on 1,000 customer complaints and seven different public hearings, paints a picture of a company that consistently let its networks fall apart, refused to upgrade or repair customer equipment on a timely basis, routinely and aggressively engaged in fraudulent billing practices, and repeatedly ignored customer complaints about all of it. The report includes photos showing Frontier's network gear in various states of neglect:

Or installs where company lines were draped casually through yards, over fences, and even over propane tanks:

Again, if you've followed similar stories focused on Verizon, this kind of behavior is the norm, not some errant exception for the nation's phone companies. And while some states actually hold telcos feet to the fire occasionally, there's a long roster of states (Tennessee and West Virginia quickly come to mind) where the "solution" to these problems has been to completely neuter local regulatory oversight at incumbent monopoly request. This kind of blind deregulation, as you may have noticed, doesn't actually fix anything when dealing with natural, apathetic monopolies.

Again, this kind of apathy hurts the customers of these companies, who've made it pretty clear they no longer really want to be in the residential broadband business. As apathetic telcos hang up on unwanted customers, it's creating a bigger monopoly for cable operators across huge swaths of the country. That, in turn, only ensures that prices remain high and customer service remains an afterthought. And again, the Ajit Pai FCC's tendency to rubber stamp every and all industry desires without holding anybody accountable for anything pretty clearly isn't helping.

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