Tag: "public utilities commission"

Posted October 4, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

A few weeks ago, we wrote about one of the community meetings held by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to address mounting frustrations over poor service from Frontier Communications. Subscribers at the meeting in Wyoming, Minnesota, complained of download speeds as slow as 0.05 Megabits per second (Mbps), outages that lasted for weeks, and unhelpful customer service representatives.

According to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), the small town of Ceylon, Minnesota, has had to deal with even more insulting mistreatment at the hands of the company. Residents of Ceylon say that Frontier never actually finished installing its lines in the town. Instead, Frontier has left them lying in people’s yards and dangling from trees — for as long as three years, by one account.

Frontier’s “Corporate Indifference”

Internet access and telephone providers like Frontier usually bury cables underground or suspend them on utility poles to keep the infrastructure safe. In Ceylon, it appears that Frontier has taken a more lackadaisical approach, resulting in lines snaking through the grass, tied to trees, and even crossing over a propane tank. MPR notes that some people in the town have taken it upon themselves to move Frontier’s cables out of the way of harm, attaching them to posts and fences for fear of accidentally severing the connection.

Ceylon officials had previously requested that Frontier fix the problem, to no effect. At the PUC hearing in Slayton, Minnesota, City Councilmember John Gibeau said that the incomplete network installation represented Frontier’s “corporate indifference” to serving rural subscribers, MPR reports.

A representative from Frontier said the company would visit Ceylon to verify that the lines belong to them and to remedy the situation. But for now, Gibeau has a warning for Frontier: "You don't do that to my town and think you're going to get away with it."

Whatever the reason for the slipshod work, Frontier can’t blame it on lack of funding. As Bill Coleman and his team from the Blandin Foundation...

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Posted September 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Wyoming, Minnesota, gathered together on September 12th to bend the ear of officials from the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Ann Treacy from the Blandin Foundation attended the meeting and recorded most of the conversation from the 100 or so frustrated and fed-up folks. The meeting was one of five organized by the PUC after a record number of complaints by incumbent telephone and Internet access provider Frontier.

A Shared Reality

It’s safe to say that “frustration” was the star of the night, as everyone who spoke mentioned how it had consumed their experience with Internet access from Frontier. People who spoke at the meeting included those who worked from home, business owners, parents with families whose kids needed Internet access for homework, and retired folks who just wanted to enjoy a quiet evening streaming a movie.

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said that they needed to run mobile hotspots or had given up on Frontier’s DSL service and now rely solely on hot spots to avoid the frustration of dealing with terrible service. Several people at the meeting don’t have the option of mobile hotspots because there’s no cell coverage where they live.

In addition to horribly unreliable connectivity, where the only consistency is dropped service, people expressed anger about overpaying for Internet access that was down far too often — even for weeks at a time. When they were able to get online, many people who spoke at the meeting reports horrifically slow speeds and feel they are being “ripped off” because they never reach the “up to” speed that they pay for each month. Once woman has documented her line’s performance and the fastest download speed she has reached is .96 Megabits per second (Mbps); the slowest is .05 Mbps. This same person has had limited success in cajoling Frontier to temporarily lower her bill since 2012.

...

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Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by christopher

After being told by the large telephone incumbent that he could pay a nominal fee in rural Michigan to get phone service, John Reigle built a home. And when the telephone company changed its mind after quoting an outrageous price, he created a cooperative that is building fiber networks in a very rural region of Michigan. 

General Manager Ron Siegel of Allband Communications Cooperative joins us for episode 276 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We talk about the realities of connecting the most rural unconnected, while fighting for what meager support is available from state and federal sources. 

Along the way we talk about how the cooperative grew up and where its future lies in an uncertain time for local networks as the federal government showers money on the biggest incumbents that aren't really investing in rural America.

We previously wrote about Allband here.

Read the transcript of this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted August 28, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet joins the show to explain how this small ISP is building next-generation networks in rural California. Listen to this episode here.

Michael Anderson: If there's an existing incumbent nearby, and they claim that area, then they can say, "No, you can't fund that, we'll challenge it," and then they don't really have to give you a timeframe as to when they are going to provide that service, so it is a real show stopper.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. This week, Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet, and Christopher, talk about the California company, their history, and their approach. They also discuss what it's like to work in an environment where national providers do all they can to pretend competition from ISPs like Spiral. Some of those efforts are playing out right now, as the state legislature reviews funding that has traditionally been used to expand Internet access in rural areas. Before we start the interview, we want to remind you that this commercial-free conversation is not free to produce. Please take a moment to contribute at ILSR.org. If you've already contributed, thanks. Now here's Christopher and Michael Anderson from Spiral Internet.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up here in Minneapolis. Today I'm talking with Michael Anderson, the Chief Information Officer for Spiral Internet, all the way out there in California. Welcome to the show.

Michael Anderson: Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: So, you are in California, but in a place called Nevada City, I believe, which confuses me every single time I talk to you or one of your folks from Spiral Internet. Can you tell us a little more about your company?

Michael Anderson: Whenever you hear Nevada City, California, people still think that we are in the state of Nevada, which is not the case. Actually, Nevada City had the name "...

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Posted August 23, 2017 by christopher

With the right policies and local investment, Spiral Internet could bring high quality Internet access to much of northern California. Spiral is a small private company and its CIO, Michael Anderson, talks with us today for episode 267 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

We discuss Spiral's enthusiasm for open access fiber networks and how the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is funding some rural Internet investment. In particular, we get a sense of how Spiral is making the transition from reselling DSL to fighting for open fiber networks in rural California. 

One of the larger challenges today is an effort in the California Legislature to modify the rural broadband subsidy program to essentially give AT&T veto power over the CPUC grants. As we have discussed many times before, AT&T and some of the cable companies want a right of first refusal to grants, a policy that would dramatically disrupt the process for the smaller companies that are actually investing in high quality connectivity in areas poorly served by the incumbents. 

Read the transcript of this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted February 4, 2014 by christopher

When the DC Circuit Court handed down a decision ruling against the FCC's Open Internet (network neutrality) rules, it also clarified that the FCC has the power to overrule state laws that limit local authority to build community networks. Harold Feld, Senior Vice President for Public Knowledge, joins us for Community Broadband Bits Episode #84 to explain the decision.

Harold exlains what Section 706 authority is and how all the DC Circuit judges on the case felt that the FCC, at a minimum, has the authority to strike down laws that delay or prohibit the expansion of broadband infrastrcturue.

We then discuss how the FCC can go about striking down such laws to reestablish local authority - a community in a state like North Carolina could file a petition with the FCC for action or the FCC could decide to take action itself. Either way, it will have to build a record that laws revoking local authority to build networks are harmful to expanding this essential infrastructure.

Finally, some of this power filters down to state public utility commissions, but just how much is unclear at present.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 25, 2013 by christopher

We welcome Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge back to the show to discuss the latest update in the so-called IP Transition. Back in episode 32, Harold explained the five fundamental protections needed for our telecommunications system.

Today he returns to discuss the ways in which some of the islands devastated by Sandy are being turned into Verizon experiments as Verizon refuses to rebuild the copper phone number or upgrade to fiber; instead Verizon is installing an inadequate substitute, as we covered in this story.

Harold explains why this turn of events in New York and New Jersey is an important harbinger for the rest of us and why states should not premarturely deregulate important consumer protections like carrier of last resort and public utility commission oversight.

Read the transcript from this show here.

This show is 15 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Eat at Joe's for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted June 19, 2013 by lgonzalez

Victims of Sandy are still recovering from the killer storm that ripped through the east coast last year. Two places hardest hit by the "Frankenstorm" were Fire Island, New York and the Barrier Island in New Jersey. In addition to homes and property, residents lost phone and Internet communications when telephone wires went down. They are still waiting to be reconnected.

Our readers know about the huge fight that has embroiled consumer advocates and the leading telephone providers in the past few years. AT&T and Verizon seek deregulation to escape the "carrier of last resort" obligation that requires maintenance of traditional copper lines for telephone service. AT&T and Verizon want to shed that responsibility in favor of wireless service that is less expensive to maintain, even though it does not support the range of uses today's copper networks do. 

Verizon is the incumbent telephone provider in Fire Island and Barrier Island but decided it will not repair damaged lines. It wants to instead deploy its inferior Voice Link wireless service on the island.

The Voice Link technology basically attaches to your house and uses Verizon's cellular network to connect the telephones in your home. Homeowners can continue to use their home phones, but the quality tends to be worse than on a proper wired telephone network. 

Under federal law,  telephone providers are obligated to replace or repair downed copper lines unless they substitute with a "line improvement," such as fiber-optic lines. Voice Link cannot be described as a "line improvement" - the only benefit it provides is that it costs Verizon less to build and maintain. 

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Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge recently pointed out some of the many shortcomings of Voice Link, as revealed on Verizon's own Terms of Service. The people most harmed by this scaled back service include the people who, in one way or another, are most vulnerable. Harold Feld, also...

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Posted February 22, 2013 by lgonzalez

Last year, we reported on the failed SB 135, which would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement in the state. The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Hornback would have let AT&T decide who could receive basic telephone service and would have limited consumer protections.

Last year's bill did not become law, but a progeny, SB 88, has already passed in the Kentucky Senate and was received in the House on February 15th. (We'd like to report what committee will hear it first but the Kentucky Legislative web has not yet published that information.) Senator Hornback is again the chief author of the bill, crafted by AT&T and its ALEC pals.

The Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) provides an analysis of SB 88 and a prognosis on how it would affect Kentuckians. KRC must be feeling deja vu, as are many organizations looking out for rural dwellers who depend on their landlines. These bills continue to be introduced year after year as large telecommunications companies spend millions of lobbying dollars, also year after year.

WMMT, Mountain Community Radio in Whitesburg, Kentucky, recently reported on the legislation. Sylvia Ryerson spoke with Tom Fitzgerald from KRC, who discussed the analysis. From KRC's report on the legislation:

At potential risk is the opportunity for existing and new customers, to obtain stand-along basic telephone services from the incumbent telephone utility, or “Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)” as it is called. Those most adversely affected by this loss of access to basic, stand-alone, telephone service are those least able to obtain affordable and reliable alternatives – those who live in rural, lower density areas, and the poor in dense, urbanized areas who have no affordable alternative priced as low as POTS.

...

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