As problems persist for customers caught in the aftermath of Verizon's sale of its wireline services to Frontier Communications that was finalized last month, the Long Beach City Council questioned representatives from the company last night over why outages and service disruptions continue to affect residents in the city.
The exploring of the agenda item was prompted by what multiple council members referred to as a “swarm” of complaints from their constituents over loss of telephone, internet and television services since the merger April 1. On that day, Frontier officially took over those services from Verizon in California, Texas and Florida, in a $10 billion deal that included over 3.7 million individual accounts.
“Since Frontier Communications took over landline, internet and video operations from Verizon on April 1, I have heard a steady chorus of complaints from residents, as I’m sure many of my colleagues have, with concerns about problems they’ve had with their service,” said Eighth District Councilman Al Austin, who requested the agenda item at last night’s meeting.
According to the city’s director of technology and innovation Bryan Sastokas, the city began to receive complaints about the merger almost immediately. Sastokas said on April 13 the city reached out to Frontier and to the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) because of the volume of complaints to make both parties aware of the size of the issue.
“The CPUC is fully aware of the difficulties that residences are experiencing, the CPUC commission has also ensured the city that a new Frontier consumer point of contact has been established for residents so they can call directly for issues concerning services and or outages,” Sastokas said.
The CPUC will have a presence at a town hall meeting scheduled for Saturday, May 14 at the Expo Art Center, where the public will have an opportunity to voice their complaints directly to representatives from Frontier. The town hall was organized by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell ahead of a larger statewide hearing by the Assembly’s Utilities and Commerce Committee in Sacramento May 18.
Complaints from customers have ranged from slow internet service to complete loss of services, which have been accompanied by long waits to speak with customer service representatives and missed appointments by technicians.
The disruptions have even struck behind the dais, with multiple council members sharing their own issues with the Frontier takeover. Councilman Rex Richardson joined Austin in saying he missed Game of Thrones this past weekend because of service disruptions.
Frontier President for the West Region Melinda White said the company had expected “some gaps” to exist when the company assumed the over three million accounts in Florida, Texas and California, but that most of the issues the company has identified have to do with software. However, she characterized the disruptions in services as “minimal,” asserting that “less than one percent” of customers across California have experienced issues since the merger.
On social media, the narrative of communities in Florida and Texas and other municipalities in California seemingly echo what’s happening in Long Beach; ongoing outages, long wait times to report issues and an even longer wait to have them resolved. The tweet posts to the company’s Facebook also suggest a refutation of the “less than one percent” assertion made by White.
“I would question statistics, I’m here as one of the one percent,” said new Frontier customer Joseph Hoffman. “I experience service outages and stuff and it’s kind of funny the transition happened on April Fool’s day because it was quite a foolish thing we had to go through.”
Hoffman said in addition to none of his old paperless billing records existing, he’s been notified that Verizon's two year promotional extension, for which he enrolled in November, may not be honored by Frontier.
Records of what a person signed up for are part of Verizon’s records, much like email and voice mail accounts, which have also been reported to be unreachable. Hoffman said the only recourse after that is to call Frontier, which has resulted in long waits and few resolutions.
“When you call Verizon they ask you to enter your phone number and it tells you ‘you are no longer a Verizon customer’ and they refer you to Frontier,” Hoffman said. “And then we get on the phone and the circle repeats.”
The issues with Frontier have dredged up memories of last year’s Southern California Edison power outages that left tens of thousands of residents without power for days, in some cases. Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga noted this before asking city staff if it would be prudent to ask the CPUC to carry out a formal investigation of Frontier’s shortcomings, as the city did with Edison last year.
“I’m not sure why there’s such an issue with the transition from Verizon to Frontier,” Uranga said. “It might be that Verizon’s systems were faulty or weak or needed work that was delayed or not done. Or it could be that Frontier was totally unprepared to take over a system that was weak or didn’t take the protocols necessary to see what was going on with Verizon before completing this deal.”
Those issues might have some more light shed on them during Saturday’s town hall as residents will share their ongoing problems before members of the CPUC. Austin concluded last night's agenda item with an ominous comment to Frontier staff, alluding to customers jumping ship if the issues currently being experienced by customers are not shored up quickly.
“If these issues are not corrected, I certainly think we all know the market will make the necessary corrections as well as the consumers,” Austin said.
This report was updated at 1:30PM, replacing the word "hearing" with the correct term "agenda item."