(The Center Square) — After a yearlong state investigation into poor telephone and internet service in rural Pennsylvania, officials say a $100 million settlement could fund critical upgrades in the northern tier.
Frontier Communications, the company at the center of the brouhaha, would also have to provide credits and refunds to customers – prioritizing customers with medical issues – and report more data to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to ensure improvements are made.
In January, a deluge of complaints kicked off a probe led by the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate and Office of Small Business Advocate. A February meeting in Tioga County brought in hundreds who vented their anger about Frontier’s routine failures — from home internet disruptions to phone lines being down for police and emergency services.
The proposed settlement, offered by both offices, would avoid litigation. The PUC public comment period is open until December 11.
“The Proposed Settlement between the OCA, OSBA, and Frontier Commonwealth will improve the quality of service for Frontier Commonwealth customers and will require it to invest in its network, be more responsive to customer trouble reports, and provide certain refunds and credits,” the Office of Consumer Advocate said in a settlement summary.
After the public comment period ends, the settlement will go before a panel of two administrative law judges, who will recommend either a complete or partial approval or a rejection to the PUC, which will make a final decision.
A local legislator who often receives calls when Frontier’s service goes out was supportive of the settlement.
“I feel confident in it,” Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, said. “The teeth are in place; it’s got an automatic trigger, they can open it right back up if they want to and pick up right where they left off.”
The settlement proposes capital spending requirements of $100 million through 2026; a maintenance plan; customer refunds and credits for outages and poor service; targeted improvements of the 18 “most troublesome” wire centers; rate caps for small businesses through 2025; a new customer service hotline; and hiring more technicians across the region and offering bonuses to boost interest.
Owlett noted that he’s seen “movement in the right direction” and that fewer residents call his office to complain about Frontier’s service.
“Frontier knows if they don’t do the things that they said they’re going to do, there’s going to be a day of reckoning on this settlement because of the engagement of so many people on this,” he said.