Frontier Communications customers got the chance to voice their complaints directly to company officials Monday during a meeting of the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
PURA held a technical meeting at its New Britain headquarters, at the request of state Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Counsel Elin Katz, to address the conversion from AT&T to Frontier.
Half a dozen Frontier customers addressed PURA commissioners and the five senior Frontier officials. Most complained of lingering service problems.
Some appreciated the company’s effort to fix problems.
“I do not want to leave Frontier,” said Carla MacKay of Portland, who has threatened to cancel her service with the company and still has “terrible internet service” nearly two months after converting to Frontier. She told company officials, who spoke earlier in the meeting, that she is happy to hear they are working to resolve issues. “I’m thankful that you’re here,” she said.
Another customer, from Trumbull, said he “can certainly appreciate the challenges that Frontier is going through,” and a New Britain customer said problems are to be expected in a changeover like this and he thinks Frontier is handling problems as well as it can.
Other customers were less forgiving.
“It has been a disaster, and it still goes on,” said Jeff Becker of Easton, frustrated by continuing internet service problems. “I’d be better off using Morse Code.”
He said he has “wasted hours” on customer service calls and been visited by multiple Frontier technicians who are unable to fix the problem. “They never follow up to make sure issues are resolved,” he added.
Mike Monahan, a New Britain customer, wondered why Frontier officials didn’t foresee potential problems ahead of the switch from AT&T.
“There was a history of what was going to potentially happen that doesn’t seem to have been addressed,” he said, alluding to past problems with a Verizon conversion to Frontier. He still has problems accessing his video on-demand service and too many call center operators have told him vaguely only that “the problem will be resolved,” he said.
Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, which lasted about an hour, five senior Frontier officials addressed the audience and PURA commissioners to discuss what led to problems with the conversion. Frontier customer service representatives also attended to help customers at the meeting who still had issues.
“Long hold times, missed appointments are not the way we do business, not the way we want to do business,” said Kathleen Abernathy, executive vice president of external affairs for Frontier. Though 99 percent of customers encountered no problems during the switch, “that’s just not enough; it needs to be everyone,” she said.
More than 2,000 customers have lodged formal complaints with the state following the conversion, during which AT&T customers transitioned to Frontier beginning Oct. 25.
Several factors contributed to problems, said Steve Gable, Frontier’s senior vice president and chief information officer. Among them: during the first weekend of the changeover, AT&T and Frontier shared huge amounts of data, he said, and some of them were mismatched, causing glitches when customers tried to access certain TV channels.
The following weekend, he said, a software bug affected 3,000 TV customers. The company has credited all 215,000 of its new TV customers $50, and gave the 3,000 people impacted by the bug a credit for a month of TV service, he said.
Every time a problem has arisen, Frontier has rushed to solve it as soon as officials are aware of it, he said.
Additional training has been provided to technicians who previously worked for AT&T and initially were unfamiliar with Frontier’s tools, said Paul Quick, Frontier’s senior vice president and general manager for Connecticut.
The company also has fixed a glitch that was causing customers to expect visits from repair technicians when none were actually scheduled, he said.
In addition, the company has hired more call center employees. Call volume to its customer service reps exceeded Frontier’s projections, said Vice President of Commercial Call Centers Jen Johnson, even though the company had prepared for an influx.
Call wait times grew to “unacceptable” lengths, in part because not enough call center representatives were trained in time, she said.
The company is working diligently to resolve all issues, Quick said.
“Our real focus is to take this seriously,” he said. “Putting the customer first is what truly matters.”
Joe Rosenthal, principal attorney for the Office of Consumer Counsel, questioned company officials about the particular ways they are addressing specific technical issues.
PURA Chairman Arthur House asked officials why they didn’t better anticipate the problems that arose.
Quick responded: “We thought we were prepared. I don’t think we imagined that the call center would get that many calls. We reacted.”
William Henderson, president of union CWA Local 1298, which represents some Frontier workers, praised the company for its efforts.
Henderson, a vocal critic of AT&T in the past, said Frontier is “a dedicated, customer-focused, community-minded company totally committed to Connecticut.”
Monday’s meeting was merely an inquiry to gain information and insight about the conversion, said PURA Commissioner and Vice Chairman John Betkoski. “This is not an investigation on the part of PURA,” he said.
Katz said she was encouraged by Frontier’s acknowledgement of ongoing problems and hoped for a continued dialogue. “I will continue to push Frontier on behalf of customers,” she said.