Frontier Agrees to $100M Pa. Spend, Bill Credits to Settle Probe
Frontier Communications agreed to spend $100 million on its Pennsylvania network through 2026 under a settlement agreement. Under the Wednesday pact with state consumer and small-business advocates, Frontier will also give bill credits to customers with service problems prospectively and retroactively. The proposed settlement to resolve a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission probe “will improve the quality of service for Frontier Commonwealth customers and will require it to invest in its network, be more responsive to customer trouble reports, and provide certain refunds and credits,” said the state's Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) in a statement of reasons.
The parties had told administrative law judges at a Tuesday they would post the agreement Wednesday (see 2310240041). As expected, comments will be due Dec. 11 on the agreement at OCA. Parties would then get 15 days to respond. Pennsylvania PUC ALJs will review the agreement and comments to develop a recommended decision. The parties could file exceptions to the ALJ recommendation, then the full commission would make a final decision on whether the settlement is in the public interest.
OCA supports the proposed settlement and is “hopeful and optimistic that if accepted by the PUC that it will significantly improve the availability of service and quality of service for customers of Frontier Commonwealth,” emailed Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Patrick Cicero. Pennsylvania Reps. Tina Pickett (R) and Clint Owlett (R), state legislators from rural areas who pushed for the Frontier probe, are reviewing the details and plan to issue a statement Monday, said a Pennsylvania House Republicans spokesperson.
The proposed settlement “provides a reasonable means of resolving all of the issues raised by this proceeding,” while reducing PUC administrative burden and parties’ litigation costs, said Frontier’s supporting statement, which was attached to the pact. The carrier noted that the service problems, occurring mainly in Pennsylvania’s northern tier, “were primarily driven by a personnel shortage in a very rural area, where often many miles exist between households and service calls.” There weren’t “network deficiencies,” it said. “An unanticipated and sudden shortage of technical field personnel created a situation where, admittedly, unacceptable levels of out-of-service periods and missed appointments occurred. The Company has been working diligently to resolve these issues and as additional service technicians are added the Company expects service performance will improve.”
Frontier would spend at least $26 million in each year 2024, 2025 and 2026, with a total investment of $100 million in the 2023-2026 period, under the agreement. The carrier would have to spend at least $5 million on repairing defective copper lines and replacing batteries. It would also have to file a maintenance plan and report to the PUC and advocates on its battery inventory. The pact requires Frontier to focus efforts on improving 18 wire centers with the most trouble reports and other poor service-quality metrics.
Automatic bill credits would be required for phone outages lasting longer than 24 hours, with the credit equal to 1/30 of the monthly service charge. If service is out for more than 48 hours, Frontier would additionally have to pay $6 a day to residential customers and $12 a day to small businesses. For outages lasting longer than 10 days, the respective amounts would increase to $10 and $20 daily. Credits would also apply for telephone service quality problems like static, repeated trouble, missed repair appointments and phone installation delays. First responders would get an additional $100 credit per incident if they have to spend resources due to Frontier delays of more than four hours responding to emergency repairs. Up to $200 in bill credits would apply retroactively to July 1, 2022, for current customers. The same goes for customers who canceled, as long as they filed complaints or testified at hearings for the PUC probe.
Frontier also agreed to provide broadband service credits. For delayed installation of more than 10 days, the carrier would have to provide up to $200. For broadband outages, the carrier would provide pro-rated credits on a case-by-case basis, it said.
The proposal would stop Frontier from raising rates for existing small-business services before Jan. 1, 2025. Also, the company would have to create a consumer hotline for expedited support. And it would have to try to hire technicians and provide bonuses for workers in Pennsylvania’s northern tier region.
The agreement is in the public interest because it provides specific, measurable customer remedies, supported by oversight and reporting, said the Office of Small Business Advocate in its attached supporting statement. “At a time when all types of utility service are becoming more expensive, the Rate Cap will provide some relief to Frontier’s small business customers as the Company works to improve its overall quality of service.”