Frontier Communications responded on Thursday to a recent audit regarding the quality of its landline phone service in West Virginia, which is regulated by the state Public Service Commission.
The audit, completed in March, found Frontier has lost thousands of phone and internet customers in the last decade, and roughly half of its experienced field employees are due to retire in the next five years. The audit also stated Frontier is not doing enough preventative maintenance on its more than 49,000 miles of infrastructure, which serves roughly 300,000 landline customers and 170,000 DSL internet customers.
The commission called for an audit more than two years ago after complaints from Frontier customers and a union representing Frontier employees. According to staff for the commission, they received approximately 2,000 complaints related to Frontier’s landline phone service in the last year.
The commission eventually selected a third-party auditing firm for the job at the end of July 2019. Frontier sent the finished audit to the commission on March 18.
In its Thursday response to the audit, Frontier addressed several — but not all — of the findings and recommendations auditors made.
According to Frontier, the audit did not “fully appreciate or adequately detail the reality of the difficulties” Frontier faces, including the “heavy burden” of operating in a “rural and difficult-to-serve” region. Frontier voluntarily acquired much of this area in 2010 from Verizon, agreeing at the same time to various additional reporting and service conditions set by the commission.
Not only did Frontier request the commission impose similar conditions on other phone providers in the state, but it asked the commission to consider creating a fund to help Frontier and other companies “support the continued universal availability of affordable telecommunications services in West Virginia.”
Frontier filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York on April 14.
Auditors stated they had a difficult time understanding the full financial picture of Frontier’s operations in West Virginia, because overhead costs like employee benefits are budgeted at a corporate level, along with major improvement projects that happen on the state level.
Frontier rejected auditors’ recommendation to budget these allocations more locally, saying their process now is more efficient.
The company said it is prepared to implement other recommendations from auditors, to address backlogs in preventative maintenance work and to improve the company’s 25 worst performing areas in the state.
Frontier did not address a recommendation from auditors to plan for the mass retirement of experienced field employees, who are responsible for restoring service to customers during outages and other maintenance work, nor did Frontier address any of the auditors' broadband related recommendations.
It is unclear when the commission will address Frontier’s response, or the audit’s findings and recommendations. Other parties involved in the audit — including the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, which requested the audit back in 2018 — have until May 20 to respond to Frontier’s response.
Much of the information included in this article, including Frontier's number of West Virginia customers and details about its infrastructure, originally had been redacted from the audit. In April, science and technology magazine Ars Technica found Frontier had improperly redacted a public version of the audit.
The commission is still in the process of responding to a Freedom of Information Act request West Virginia Public Broadcasting submitted before the Ars Technica report, requesting access to the full Frontier audit. Although the redacted information has been made available by news outlets, Frontier was allowed to upload a newly redacted version of the report to the commission's website.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.