In an effort to help former Verizon customers regain their service and get some questions answered, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell held a town hall in Long Beach on Saturday that doubled as a pop-up service center filled with over two dozen Frontier technicians.
While many customers in attendance were just as interested in knowing how the transition from Verizon to Frontier Communications caused a disruption of service to many, O’Donnell’s town hall was mainly organized to address service issues.
"You heard people say, 'well how did this happen, how did that happen,'” said O’Donnell regarding the town hall. “Those are legitimate questions and I want them answered as well but today [...] what I can do is offer assistance.”
For Long Beach resident Nancy Thompson, the service disruption began April 1 and did not end until two days before the town hall. She couldn’t use her phone, television or internet. She said she had to call numerous elected officials and service representatives and wait patiently for the full return of her services.
“Even though things didn't get done quickly they kept getting done,” Thompson said. “I don't have to worry about a business so I wasn’t that inconvenienced, though my friends had wondered what happened to me.”
Amid a myriad of angry comments and questions, a Frontier executive did answer some questions as to how so many customers in Long Beach experienced service disruptions after the largest flash cutover—meaning one day you are on one system (Verizon) and the next day you are on another (Frontier)—ever attempted in the telecom business.
Despite numerous mock runs and pre-planning operations over a year before the April 1 transition, the company encountered data corruptions when bringing over the very large amount of data—hundreds of billions of data pieces, according to Melinda White, area president for Frontier’s west division.
“We knew when we went into this conversion there would be some gaps and the data that didn't come over properly—maybe there was a field missing, maybe there were characters that were in error—but that would mean, in a world of IP which many of you are on our IP network, that there would be something that wouldn't work as it needed to,” White said.
The network also experienced issues where certain serial numbers, connected to things such as equipment, did not transfer over as planned and resulted in a disruption in service, according to White.
While these two issues caused accounts to disappear, billing errors and disrupted service to phones, televisions and the internet for up to weeks at a time, customers seemed just as irritated, if not more, with customer service.
“Many of you experienced interactions that were less than productive; many of you experienced interactions that were very bad,” White said.
O’Donnell said his office received calls regarding long hold hours, poor customer service, a language barrier, and the failure to have representatives arrive within a certain time frame.
White said that to help the transition, Frontier decided to use an off-shore organization that Verizon previously used for many years. Amid outcries by attendees at this announcement, she said Frontier has a 100 percent U.S.-based workforce. She added that over 10,000 call center representatives, including some in California, were ready to take calls on the first day of the transition.
“We have a very large transaction that just occurred and ironically we wanted to make sure that we were prepared to take calls, all kinds of calls, and unfortunately when you had problems that was one issue and it was magnified by the fact that you had trouble getting to us and for that I am really sorry,” White said.
In response to the disrupted service Frontier is compensating customers through credits to their accounts, according to White.
“It was never our intent to make things tough on our customers,” White said. “You are the prime part of our business. I know we have work to do to regain your confidence, I get that, I know that we will do everything we can to ensure that we stay on that course.”
While Frontier took most of the heat, some customers questioned the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) oversight.
But the commission only regulates telephone lines—and that’s plain old telephone poles, according to the CPUC’s liaison Drisha Melton. It doesn’t regulate broadband, so if a person uses FIOS for their phone line, the CPUC does not have direct authority over it. Instead it would be an issue for the Federal Communications Commission.
“What we're doing now is [… to] use forums like this and go back to legislators and tell them the reason why we need oversight,” Melton said. “At this point, our hands are tied.”
Photos by Stephanie Rivera.