Tales of dead phones, balky internet connections and interminable customer service delays were on tap Wednesday at a public hearing in Lakeville, part of a state inquiry into Frontier Communications.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) opened a case against the telecommunications company earlier this year after receiving a deluge of complaints about Frontier's service. The last two of six statewide public meetings were held Wednesday.
"Whenever we had moisture or rain, it rendered our landline service inoperable," said Harry Tolzman, one of about 50 people who attended an afternoon hearing at Lakeville's Heritage Center. "You just couldn't use it."
Tolzman, of Waterville, said he repeatedly called Frontier's customer service and was finally told a new cable would be laid next to his house. But he said the cable wasn't properly installed and he still has phone service problems when it rains.
Dave Davenport, of the Lakeville area, said he's had persistent interruptions with his Frontier internet service. "They gave me supposedly high-speed internet, and that's what I have been paying for. But it wasn't high speed," he said. "I used to have more hair, but I pulled it out."
Kevin Saville, an attorney for the company, told meeting attendees that "on behalf of Frontier, I apologize we didn't handle your service situations appropriately. I commit to you on behalf of the company that we will follow up and address your concerns."
Stamford, Conn.-based Frontier has almost 100,000 landline customers in Minnesota, many of whom live in rural northeastern and southern Minnesota. But the publicly traded company also covers parts of Apple Valley, Farmington, Burnsville, Rosemount and Lakeville in the metro area.
Frontier appears to be the third-largest landline phone service provider in Minnesota.
The PUC, after receiving 106 complaints in early 2018 about Frontier's service, began an inquiry in February. A month later, the PUC ordered the Minnesota Department of Commerce to do a formal investigation of Frontier's compliance with state customer service regulations.
Since opening the Frontier case, the PUC has received 530 more complaints about the company.
"This is the first time we have seen this level of complaints about a member of the telecommunications industry," Greg Doyle, the commerce department's manager of telecommunications said at the Lakeville meeting.
As part of the state investigation, six public hearings were scheduled across the state: one in Ely, McGregor, Wyoming and Slayton and two in Lakeville.
Many complainants have said Frontier is their only option for internet service. The PUC has allowed comments on internet service at public meetings and in written correspondence, but the commission may be able to do little or nothing about them.
While the PUC oversees landline phone service, federal law generally prohibits state regulation of internet service.
In addition to Frontier customers, a union representative for the company's field technicians spoke at the Wednesday afternoon hearing in Lakeville.
"Frontier has not invested sufficiently in its network in Minnesota," said Mark Doffing, president of Local 7270 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). "Our technicians are forced to Jerry-rig quick fixes because Frontier won't repair or replace damaged cables, poles cabinets and other infrastructure."
He added that Frontier has reduced the ranks of its technicians, and that as a result, customers are left "waiting many days for repairs."
Javier Mendoza, Frontier's vice president of corporation communications, said "we disagree with the CWA's assertions." He said Frontier serves many high-cost rural areas in Minnesota and other states. "The story here is the high cost of delivering service."