Montgomery County

Frontier’s ‘failed system’ plagued by outages in Glen

Town of Glen Supervisor Timothy Reilly
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Town of Glen Supervisor Timothy Reilly

GLEN For around a month, Ilene Wagner’s internet provided by Frontier Communications was out this summer at her home in the town of Glen.

“There have been ongoing issues with Frontier as far back as I can remember,” Wagner said. “It seems to have gotten worse, I’ve never been without service for a month.”

Technicians visited her home at least three times trying unsuccessfully to restore service that was out from late July through most of August. Wagner waited at home for scheduled appointments at least two other times for which repair workers never showed up.

“It’s a good thing I’m retired, because that’s easy for me to do. But if I were working that would be a real issue,” Wagner said.

When her internet finally was restored in August, Wagner said it didn’t last long.

“At that point I had service and then a few days later it went out again,” Wagner said. “I have had service for a week.”

SEEKING ANSWERS

Two weeks into the monthlong outage, Wagner upgraded her cell phone plan to add Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities to access the internet from home.

Fed up at that point, Wagner emailed Glen officials asking them to try to get to the bottom of the frequent service outages broadly affecting the community and to invite a Frontier representative to a Town Board meeting to publicly address the long-standing issues.

“This is a very well known issue, but I wanted to bring it to the Town Board thinking that if it got elevated there would be some resolution,” Wagner said.

Town Supervisor Timothy Reilly was all too familiar with the service problems facing Frontier customers in Glen after suffering internet and landline phone outages at his own home.

“It’s not hours, it’s days and can turn into weeks,” Reilly said. “To make matters worse, when you call it can be a two hour wait just to get through to talk to a person and then it’s two weeks before a representative can come out and assess the situation.”

SYSTEM FAILURE

Reilly reached out to Frontier in August requesting company representatives attend a meeting to discuss the “failed system” in the rural town where cell phone service can be spotty and families more reliant on home internet since the pandemic have often had to go to libraries or McDonald’s to conduct business remotely or complete schoolwork.

“For years the internet and phone service provided through Frontier to the residents of Glen remains extremely poor and inoperable for weeks at a time,” wrote Reilly by email, a copy of which was provided to The Recorder. “Your system remains failing the residents and subscribers of the town where options are limited or outright unavailable.”

A company representative offered to schedule a virtual meeting with Reilly to go over areas of the town where “much more robust and dependable” fiber optic cables are available and to discuss migrating local customers to those utilities from copper DSL lines in a reply on Sept. 1.

However, Reilly said part of the problem is that fiber optic cables do not cover the entire town leaving customers still on old DSL lines to experience recurring service issues.

AGING INFRASTRUCTURE

Frontier’s fiber optic cables are visible just a few houses short of Thomas Murray’s home on Argersinger Road.

“I can walk down to the end of my driveway and see where it ends,” Murray said. “We’re still on those old copper lines that have been in for years.”

Residents often ask technicians working in the area if the fiber optic cables will be extended, but to date haven’t received any firm answers as crews try to fix the aging infrastructure.

“They seem to be as frustrated as anyone else,” Wagner said. “They open up the boxes and see a million wires and say, ‘Oh my God.’”

After dealing with intermittent internet outages at his home for years, Murray said there is little recourse for himself and others in the town’s more remote areas. His only other choice would be satellite internet, which is cost prohibitive and could still be spotty in inclement weather.

“I don’t think there is a person in the town of Glen with Frontier who would have it if they had a choice,” Murray said. “Some parts of town have Spectrum, I’m not sure how it happened or why it happened, but we don’t have that.”

LIMITED OPTIONS

There are some areas of the town without any home telecommunication options. About 8.1% of properties in Glen are not served by high speed internet, according to the state Public Service Commission’s Broadband Map that assesses service availability statewide.

The PSC is examining Frontier’s service quality in the state, according to a Commission spokesperson. The company is required to submit quarterly reports to the state after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020.

Frontier emerged from bankruptcy the following year under a restructuring plan involving $83 million in investments over three years to improve its services, including expanding its fiber optic network.

“Frontier submitted a plan addressing measures and projects to be completed by Frontier in 24 poor performing central offices to enhance service quality and network reliability, including delayed repairs,” the PSC spokesperson stated in an emailed response to a request for comment.

However, Glen is not among the poor performers identified for improvements. Only Fort Plain, Saint Johnsville and Gloversville were included locally.

COMMUNICATION PROBLEM

After griping about her service issues with other dissatisfied neighbors over Nextdoor, Wagner said it became apparent that airing their grievances within the community alone wouldn’t solve the persistent problems.

“It occurred to me that all we seem to do is whine to each other and I thought I wanted to do more,” Wagner said.

Data provided by Frontier to the PSC indicates that network reliability has been satisfactory in Glen this year. The PSC received only one consumer complaint from a town resident against Frontier in June about delayed repairs that was ultimately resolved.

The office of state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, has not received any complaints about Frontier service issues in Glen either, according to Nicole Parisi, the chief of staff. She encouraged residents experiencing outages to reach out to their office or the PSC for assistance.

Complaining to the Federal Communications Commission has worked for Reilly in the past, leading an extended outage at his home to finally be resolved within 24 hours.

“I guess the squeaky wheel gets oiled, but it’s often short lived,” Reilly said. “For whatever reason the system is worn out or the lines are deteriorated to such a state that it’s like squeezing a balloon, they fix it here and it goes out somewhere else.”

URGENT CALLS

Even the Montgomery County 911 Dispatch Center served by Frontier has experienced occasional outages, according to Sheriff Jeffery Smith. The emergency system is normally quickly restored by calling 24 hour service representatives through direct lines.

“That’s different from somebody else in their home obviously,” Smith said. “I would by no means say we’ve had a major problem here… Any technology at times can experience a glitch.”

Residents sometimes experience landline phone outages that can prevent them from reaching 911, Smith acknowledged. He normally encourages locals in an emergency to instead use a cell phone, seek help from a neighbor or when possible drive to the nearest law enforcement agency.

The sheriff’s office was notified by Frontier of a phone outage affecting 570 customers in Glen on Sunday afternoon and advised residents to be prepared in case of an emergency over social media. Smith was unsure what caused the outage, but storms rolled through the area around the time it began. The sheriff announced that service had been restored on Monday around 8 a.m.

Residents concerned about seniors or vulnerable individuals without a means of reaching help in an emergency when their landline phone is out for extended periods sometimes contact the sheriff’s office for assistance.

Under those circumstances, Smith said staff at times have contacted Frontier on a family’s behalf to ensure a complaint ticket is properly created to address the issue. How long it takes from there depends on the availability of technicians and the source of the problem.

“Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t,” Smith said.

STILL WAITING

The Glen Town Board is still holding out hope that a Frontier representative can be induced to explain the recurring services issues and plans to address them at a future public meeting.

If a virtual meeting is the only forum company representatives agree to, Reilly acknowledged that he would accept the offer to try to finally get some answers.

“I will take what I can get,” Reilly said. “There are a lot of people who rely on this.”

No firm plans for an in-person or virtual meeting between town and company officials have been set. Frontier did not return multiple requests for comment for this story.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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