At long last, we may have an answer to the question no one has been asking: Is there a phone and internet company out there that sucks more than Comcast?
Enter Frontier Communications: a Connecticut-based cable company that serves the mostly rural southern and northeastern corners of our state. The Minnesota Department of Commerce filed an investigative report on Friday with the Minnesota Public Utilities Committee, featuring about a thousand comments and complaints from Frontier’s Minnesota customers. They are, in a word, underwhelmed with their service.
A number of anecdotes in those complaints are enough to rankle anyone who’s struggled with their internet provider -- repair people that never showed up, entire afternoons spent listening to whatever passed for hold music, even outages that lasted for days. But the parts of the report that hit the hardest are the photos.
Photos submitted by the Ulshafer family in Kelsey show a telephone pedestal knocked sideways and half-frozen in ice, and a few with spaghetti-like tangles of wire exposed -- a pretty good guess as to why their landline had been crackling and buzzing that year.
Photos from John Gibeau in Ceylon showed live wires trailing across a lawn, and a wire seemingly haphazardly knotted around a tree trunk. The caption read, “Frontier telephone pole???” There was even a photo from MPR showing a Frontier cable laid across a large propane tank. The report described Ceylon City Council Member John Gibeau’s unsuccessful attempts to get Frontier out to fix the town’s several exposed -- or in some cases, unelevated -- wires.
Customers who tried to get repairs to their broken, unreliable, or unsafe cables were met with responses that ranged from weirdly aggressive to convoluted to nonexistent, according to the complaint. Jayne Shaffer of LeRoy claimed a service tech named Jesse practically screamed “HELLO, HELLO, HELLO!! Thank YOU for calling Frontier!!” when she tried to get help, shortly before she was “cut off, transferred without being able to fully describe my problem, put on hold for long periods, and finally dropped to begin the process again.”
When Barb Samarzia of Holyoke tried to call about her service being down, the phone “promptly hung up.” After a long game of telephone cat-and-mouse with the company, she was “out of phone service for about a week and a half.”
“I don’t even dare call Frontier to get my money back,” she said. “It won’t happen.”
Many customers say they would have dropped Frontier and gone for another cable provide -- if there was another to be had. Unfortunately, Frontier is it for these out-of-the-way Minnesota towns. There’s little financial incentive for other companies to fill the gap.
“The economic reality is that upgrading broadband infrastructure in the more rural parts of the state is not economically viable,” Vice President Javier Mendoza said in a previous interview with City Pages.
After the report came out, he sent a statement acknowledging the occasional “service delay” for some of Frontier’s customers, while saying the company “work[s] hard to provide reliable, affordable telecommunications services to approximately 90,000 customers” in the state.
“Frontier strongly disagrees with the assertions in the Department of Commerce’s initial comments and is reviewing the Department’s filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Frontier and its employees work hard to provide reliable, affordable telecommunications services to approximately 90,000 customers in Minnesota, many in rural communities where no other provider will invest in providing service. Frontier recognizes we experience service issues and delays from time-to-time with some of our customers. We are an ethical company committed to our customers and the Minnesota communities we serve. We take this matter seriously and will respond appropriately before the Public Utilities Commission.”
Be that as it may, the report recommends Frontier be required to refund or credit customers who got left out in the cold and got charged for services they didn’t want, and that the company add staff and invest in better equipment so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.