HARRISURG – Five Northern Tier lawmakers are encouraging customers of Frontier Commonwealth to weigh in on a proposed settlement agreement recently filed with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) by the Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA), Office of Small Business Advocate (OSBA) and Frontier.
The settlement was negotiated in response to a formal complaint filed by OCA and OSBA against Frontier earlier this year for its failure to provide reliable service to residential and business customers.
Reps. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Wyoming), Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford), Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), Jonathan Fritz (R-Susquehanna/Wayne) and Joe Hamm (R-Lycoming/Sullivan) represent thousands of residents and businesses that receive telephone and/or internet services from Frontier. They issued the following statement about the proposed settlement:
“Our goal from the start of this process has been to hold Frontier accountable to the people it serves. Paying customers deserve reliable telephone and internet services, responsive customer service and proactive efforts by the company to invest in the maintenance of its infrastructure.
“We are grateful to the OCA and OSBA for their efforts toward this goal for the people of the Northern Tier. The hundreds of Frontier customers who took the time to share their experiences through written complaints or testimony during PUC hearings have truly driven this process over the last year. Now it’s time for the next step. We strongly encourage everyone who is served by Frontier to take the time to review the proposed settlement agreement and share their opinions with OCA by Dec. 11. We want to make sure the settlement meets the current and future needs of our residents and businesses.”
The filing of the proposed settlement agreement activated a 45-day comment period for Frontier Commonwealth customers to share their feedback. That public comment period ends on Monday, Dec. 11. Comments may be submitted to the OCA electronically at FrontierSettlement@paoca.org or by first class mail to: Office of Consumer Advocate, Attn: Frontier Settlement, 555 Walnut St., 5th Floor, Forum Place, Harrisburg, PA 17101-1923.
All public comments by Frontier Commonwealth customers submitted prior to the end of the comment period will be considered by the administrative law judges in the case as they make their recommendations and the commission ultimately determines whether to accept, modify or reject the settlement.
The proposed settlement includes a series of credits or refunds for telephone and internet service failures, as well as required investments by the company into long-neglected facilities that have led to an array of service problems. A copy of the proposed settlement, as well as a summary of the document, is available online at OCA.pa.gov
“I believe the commitments we secured from Frontier Commonwealth – including at least $100 million in capital expenditures through 2026 in the service territory, as well as credits and refunds to consumers when they have an outage or a scheduled appointment that is missed -- are significant steps forward in ensuring that Pennsylvania consumers served by the company have more reliable access to basic telephone service and broadband,” said Consumer Advocate Patrick Cicero. “I encourage the public to comment on this settlement so that the PUC can hear your views about the specific provisions.”
“I am pleased with the settlement terms we were able to negotiate on behalf of Frontier Commonwealth's customers-particularly the small business customers,” said Small Business Advocate NazAarah Sabree. “We made every effort to ensure that, as a condition of this settlement, all consumers would see a marked improvement in the reliability and quality of service provided by Frontier. In addition, we were also able to secure a rate freeze for small businesses until Jan. 1, 2025. While we await further action from the commission, this joint settlement is an excellent example of effective advocacy, and my office remains dedicated and committed to answering any questions."
The following is a brief overview of the proposal.
The settlement includes credits for the following future circumstances:
• Telephone outages and poor-quality telephone services. The amount of the credits escalates the longer the problem lasts, from the cost of a day’s worth of services for problems that last more than 24 hours to $10 per day for residential customers or $20 per day for business customers for problems that last more than 10 days. Additional credits are provided for repeat problems that recur within 30 days.
• Emergency first responder organizations that must expend resources due to a delayed response of more than four hours by Frontier to repair its facilities.
• Missed repair appointments, unless eight hours prior notice is provided to the customer who is required to be on the premises.
• Phone installation delays or missed installation commitments.
The settlement also includes retroactive credits for current customers and refunds for former customers for past harm from telephone outages and poor quality service. The credits and refunds would be provided at the same level as the future credits outlined above. The refunds and credits would be applied within 180 days of approval of the settlement without the customer having to contact the company; however, a hotline will be provided for consumers to contact the company if they believe they are owed a credit or refund and have not received it. The credits and refunds, up to a maximum of $200, would be applied to incidents between July 1, 2022, and the date the PUC approves the settlement.
Also under the proposed agreement, credits would be provided for broadband services at speeds regulated by the PUC. Credits would be offered for installation delays of more than 10 days as well as for broadband service outages.
To better serve customers with medical conditions, the agreement would require Frontier to publicize its medical certification process (MCP), which allows customers to submit information for their account to be flagged with “a medical indicator” to help Frontier prioritize a customer’s trouble ticket.
Finally, the proposed settlement requires a commitment by the company to invest in maintenance and improvement of its system. The commitment includes:
• Investment of more than $100 million from 2023-26 to address deficiencies in the system. As part of this capital investment commitment, Frontier must spend a minimum of $5 million over the three years (2024-26) dedicated to repairing defective copper lines and battery replacements.
• Development of a maintenance plan to identify, monitor, evaluate, anticipate and address an array of issues including temporary lines, above-ground lines awaiting burial, other exposed lines, broken or damaged pedestals, flooded facilities, broken or damaged poles, damaged or infested remote terminals, or other outside plant concerns such as vegetation management, including those reported by customers or that reasonably can be anticipated.
• Targeted improvements to Frontier’s 18 most troublesome wire centers based on report rates and repair intervals. The assessment would be updated each year for the next three years to invest in the most troublesome wire centers as improvements are made.
• Ongoing reporting and accountability to PUC, OCA and OSBA to ensure Frontier’s commitments are being met.
• Rate cap for small business customers until Jan. 1, 2025.
• Customer support hotline for expedited repair or resolution of customer problems.
• Investment in workforce development by providing hiring bonuses for technicians in the region including Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wyoming counties.
Following the close of the public comment period, the involved parties will have 15 days to file comments in response for consideration by the administrative law judges. Those judges will issue a recommended decision that may involve approval of the settlement in full or in part, or rejection of the petition for settlement. Should changes be recommended by the judges or ordered by the commission, each of the parties would consider whether to withdraw from the settlement or accept the modification.
Representative Tina Pickett, 110th District
Representative Clint Owlett, 68th District
Representative Martin Causer, 67th District
Representative Jonathan Fritz, 111th District
Representative Joe Hamm, 84th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Pickett Media Contact: Andy Briggs 717-260-6474, firstname.lastname@example.org
Owlett Media Contact: Patricia Hippler, 717-772-9846, email@example.com
Causer Media Contact: Patricia Hippler, 717-772-9846, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fritz Media Contact: Melissa Fox, 717-260-6522, email@example.com
Hamm Media Contact: Jacob Misal, 717.260.6365, firstname.lastname@example.org