REGIONAL— The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously, last Thursday, to open a formal investigation into Frontier Communications, to include holding public hearings in Frontier’s …
REGIONAL— The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously, last Thursday, to open a formal investigation into Frontier Communications, to include holding public hearings in Frontier’s service territory across the state. At least one, and possibly more such hearings, ,will be scheduled in northern Minnesota.
The hearings will allow Frontier customers to offer testimony to an administrative law judge on problems and concerns with their Frontier service. The PUC ordered no less than three hearings and no more than six.
While the PUC ordered the actions, the investigation will primarily be handled by the Department of Commerce and the Office of Administrative Hearings, which oversees the work of administrative law judges. The Attorney General’s office could also be involved depending on the issues raised in the public testimony.
In ordering the investigation, PUC commissioners made clear that their regulatory authority is largely limited to Frontier’s voice telephone service, and that other state agencies would more appropriately address other issues, such as poor internet quality or potentially fraudulent billing practices.
The commission’s decision comes on the heels of overwhelming response to a call for comments issued by the PUC in February. Since then, the PUC has been inundated with complaints about the company’s service quality and billing practices— and that prompted PUC staff to recommend further investigation, including public hearings throughout Frontier’s service territory.
“The total number of comments and complaints, often with detailed documentation, indicate that widespread problems with service quality, customer service and billing exist,” concluded the commission staffers in their report.
A representative of the Department of Commerce also presented the commission with the results of an initial assessment of Frontier’s compliance with quality standards that the department has established for telecommunications providers. One of those standards includes restoring lost phone service. The state’s goal calls for restoration within 24 hours in 95 percent of the cases. In fact, based on complaints from Frontier customers, the company failed to meet this standard 65 percent of the time.
Another state standard requires that customers should not be on hold for longer than 60 seconds, on average, from the last menu item in the answering system before reaching a live service representative. But Frontier failed to meet that standard in ten of the last 14 months, indicating a 70-percent failure rate. During several of those months, hold times averaged four minutes to as long as seven minutes before reaching a live representative.
The PUC commissioners left it up to the ALJ, the Department of Commerce, and Frontier to agree on dates and locations for the public hearings, as well as the total number of hearings.
The commission also ordered that Frontier provide a quality service questionnaire in upcoming billing to customers, along with notice of the public hearings. The company will also be required to publish notice of the hearings in legal newspapers in counties where Frontier operates.
An attorney for Frontier objected to the advertisement requirement, suggesting that it would likely be costly for the company. But commission members said they felt the ads were important to inform the public about the hearings and the investigation and included the requirement in their final action.
Following the hearings, the ALJ will issue findings which will form the basis for a report by the Department of Commerce. The PUC asked for the DOC to issue its report within 90 days of the last public hearing in the matter.