By Ken Bustin
Pendleton County’s complaint to the Public Service Commission (PSC) against Frontier Communications went to its first mediation session on February 16, but was eventually continued until February 24 at the request of Frontier, in order that they might have time to properly assess the allegations before presenting their responses. The request was granted by the mediator and subsequently ratified by the PSC.
The mediation session took the form of a conference call between mediator Bridget D. Davis, Emergency Management Services Coordinator Rick Gillespie, representative for Pendleton County, and four representatives of Frontier — David Morris, John Tipton, James Ford and Angie McCall.
By using the mediation process, and the parties proceeding without their respective lawyers participating, it was hoped that the proceedings would be not only faster, but less adversarial and more cooperative.
Reached for comment by the Times after the session, Gillespie said that he could not comment on the content of the session, as the mediator had asked that this be kept confidential until its conclusion, but did say that he remained optimistic about reaching an equitable solution. Although he was unable to provide any detail, he did say he had been allowed to present his case before Frontier had requested the continuance.
The formal complaint now before the mediator addressed a number of concerns, including frequent and extended service outages, leaving customer unable to reach 911 and emergency services for lengthy periods of time; a number of instances where utility poles were broken or leaning and communications cables at unsafe heights or on the ground for extended periods of time; downed tree limbs or brush damaging or fouling lines or equipment cabinets for extended periods of time; failure to respond to requests for emergency assistance by first responders at vehicle crashes which had damaged or broken utility poles or downed cables; providing no emergency backup power to customers, leaving them without access to 911 and emergency services in the event of power outages; and failing to provide a promised backup trunk to carry 911 communications and emergency access outside the county in the event of failure of the main circuits, which are carried on a single cable beside the roadway across Allegheny Mountain, and which have been damaged or severed repeatedly in runaway truck crashes, leaving Pendleton County without any emergency communications to areas beyond the county.
Pendleton County brought the formal complaint to the PSC after a previous informal action brought by the county failed, in the opinion of county authorities, to have adequately resolved all of the issues, although Frontier did address and remedy some of the items in that complaint, including replacing broken utility poles and clearing brush blocking an equipment cabinet on the line serving the Pendleton 911 center.
The Times has reached out numerous times to Frontier for official comment on this matter, including for this story. At press time, we did not have a specific response to our most recent inquiry, but following our outreach for a previous story, Frontier spokesperson, Brigid Smith, did respond by saying: “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.”