Pendleton County’s formal complaint against Frontier Communications went to a second mediation session on February 24. At the conclusion of that session, Frontier once again moved for – and was granted – a continuance, this one until Tuesday, March 8, at 9 a.m. The mediation is being conducted remotely, using conference calls, before mediator Bridget D. Davis. Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County Emergency Management Services coordinator, is arguing the matter on behalf of Pendleton County, while Frontier’s position is being argued by four of its staff — David Morris, John Tipton, James Ford and Angie McCall – according to filings with the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Pendleton County filed the formal complaint after authorities felt unsatisfied that a prior informal action covering the same essential issue, had produced acceptable results.
Following the filing of the formal complaint by Pendleton County, several weeks ago, both parties consented to have the matter heard by a mediator, in the hope of keeping the proceedings less adversarial and more cooperative, as well as to expedite the process. If the parties had not opted for mediation, the matter would have been heard by an administrative law judge or the full Public Service Commission. If mediation is unable to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both parties, either may appeal the matter and have it heard by the administrative law judge or the full Commission.
The deadline for successfully concluding the current mediation is March 14, after which, if it remains unresolved, it will be referred to the Administrative Law Judge or the full Public Service Commission for their resolution.
Responding to a request for comment, Gillespie explained that a confidentiality requirement during the proceedings prevented him from discussing specifics, but said he continues to feel hopeful of an amicable resolution without having to resort to a full hearing. He said that he has been pleased to observe that Frontier has recently replaced additional damaged or broken utility poles and removed branches and brush near some lines. One of the allegations of the complaint cited a lack of proper maintenance and repair of poles and lines, and sought an order compelling Frontier to promptly repair and thereafter properly maintain its infrastructure.
Other issues addressed in the complaint included Frontier’s failure to respond to requests for assistance at the scene of vehicular accidents which had broken or damaged utility poles or downed roadside communications lines; numerous and prolonged services outages which interrupted the ability of customers to reach 911 or emergency services; failure to provide backup power supplies on newer hybrid subscriber lines to ensure continued operation in the event of a loss of utility power; and Frontier’s failure to ever complete and activate a secondary communications line to serve the 911 center in Franklin, leaving emergency communications vulnerable to a single point of failure which would sever Pendleton County’s connection with the outside world.
Currently, all of Pendleton County’s emergency communications are carried on a single roadside cable along Route 33 over Allegheny Mountain. This cable has been damaged or severed multiple times in the past, as a result of runaway truck accidents on the mountain which have broken or damaged utility poles.
Contacted for comment about the matter, Frontier had, by press time, not responded. However, a previous outreach about the overall matter, did receive a reply from Frontier spokesperson, Brigid Smith, who said, “In response to your query, Frontier operates a highly complex and interconnected telecommunications network with sophisticated electronic equipment. When Frontier experiences issues with this equipment, we work diligently to respond as promptly as possible to minimize the impact for its customers. Frontier regrets any inconvenience to impacted residents in Pendleton County.”
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