Another Cost of Deregulation
September 19, 2019
The lack of broadband internet service is not the only telecommunication problem in rural Wisconsin. Like many rural homeowners, our house is beyond the range of reliable cell phone service. Thus, our landline phone is our lifeline for reaching emergency help. For people like me who have an implanted pacemaker that is monitored through the phone line by a hospital, my landline is literally a lifeline.
This summer, along with two neighbors, I experienced an outage of my landline service when a construction crew accidentally cut a buried phone trunk line. If someone tried to call me they would hear a phone ringing, but it did not ring in the house.
Only after my doctor sent Frontier Communications (who operate landlines in many rural areas) a letter verifying my medical condition did they issue me a medically expedited repair order. But even then I had to wait two weeks before the phone line was repaired. My neighbors waited three weeks.
I filed a complaint with DATCP (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection). But DATCP can only handle complaints about billing or sales practices. It cannot do anything about poor service; neither can any other State agency. Since the legislature deregulated the telecommunications industry in 2011, Frontier has operated as a monopoly with little oversight or accountability.
My experience with Frontier is not unusual. Across the country there are several class action suits against them and thousands of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs and other watchdog organizations. In West Virginia, Frontier paid a 160 million dollar settlement for misusing millions of dollars of federal grant money earmarked for extending fiber networks. A scathing report issued in January 2019 by the Minnesota Department of Commerce found that Frontier failed its customers with shoddy service, lax record keeping and inadequate investment in its own network. To quote from the report:
“The findings of this investigation detail an extraordinary situation, where customers have suffered outages of months or more. Some of those service outages hit Frontier customers with urgent medical needs, including those with pacemakers monitored via landline phone service.”
Please tell your legislative representatives and the Public Service Commission that requiring timely repairs of rural landlines is necessary to protect the safety and health of rural residents.