CPUC tags Frontier’s service as “chronic failure”, proposes to let it slap itself on the wrist

26 July 2018 by Steve Blum
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Frontier Communications failed to meet California phone service repair standards in 2017. It’s supposed to restore service within a certain amount of time 90% of the time in any given month, in every one of its Californian service territories. According to two draft resolutions on the table at the California Public Utilities Commission, two of Frontier’s three subsidiaries missed the mark every single month.

Of the 24 reports, the worst performance was 22% in January 2017, the best was 87% in December 2017. The company does show significant improvement over the course of the year, but not enough to escape a “chronic failure status” finding, and nominally face fines totalling $823,000.

Now, the CPUC is proposing to let Frontier keep the money. Under the terms of a 2016 decision rammed through by commission president Michael Picker, if Frontier agrees to pay for “incremental actions directed at improving compliance with the service quality standard that led to the fine in an amount that is no less than two times the incurred fine”, then it doesn’t have to pay it.

Frontier convinced CPUC staff that it’ll spend $2.1 million on service improvements over the next two years, that it wasn’t planning to make. Given the obligations that Frontier has to improve or extend service for more than 800,000 Californian homes – obligations imposed on it by the CPUC when it purchased Verizon’s systems in 2015 – and the company’s reluctance to offer details about its plans, there’s good reason to be skeptical about its latest promise.

There will be no opportunity to see what improvements Frontier proposes. It convinced the CPUC to keep the details of its plea bargain secret, because of its “sensitive nature”.

At the time, I described the CPUC’s 2016 vote as “the most cynical decision I’ve ever seen” it make, and pointed out that “concocting an ‘incremental expenditure’ two years down the road, based on last year’s budget, is a trivial accounting exercise”.