One of the issues addressed in Pendleton County’s formal complaint to the Public Service Commission against Frontier Communications was failure to maintain their lines free of brush and tree limbs. Frontier appears to be taking the requested remediation seriously. Last Wednesday, a contractor for Frontier was hard at work clearing branches from Frontier’s line alongside Route 33. The previous week, falling tree limbs had dislodged a line from the poles and left it hanging about eight feet above the roadway, closing one lane to traffic for several hours. This is currently the only line which carries Pendleton County’s emergency 911 communications, although Pendleton County’s complaint asks for a second line to be built on a separate route, to provide redundant back-up in the event that this line becomes disabled, as has happened multiple times in the past when accidents involving runaway trucks on Allegheny Mountain have taken broken utility poles and severed the cable.
By Ken Bustin
After several weeks of mediation, Pendleton County and Frontier Communications arrived at a mutually-agreeable resolution to Pendleton County’s formal complaint to the Public Service Commission, regarding a number of issues involved with Frontier’s telephone and Internet service, including 911 service, in Pendleton County.
But it was not without a small hiccup. Although the parties had arrived at an agreement at their session on March 11, and it was immediately signed by mediator Bridget Davis and Pendleton County’s representative in the proceedings, Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Gillespie, Frontier sent the agreement to its attorney, Joseph Starsick, who, according to Gillespie, objected to the content of the mediation proceedings being released to the public.
Though mediation proceedings are kept confidential during the process, so as not to impair or prejudice negotiations, it is the past practice of the Public Service Commission that they be made public once the proceedings have been completed.
When Frontier failed to sign the agreement by the March 14 deadline, after which it should have been bound over to the full Public Service Commission for resolution if the mediation failed, it was instead continued for two weeks, until March 28. The official notice of the continuance said it was “…due to waiting on parties to return signed copies of the mediation results,” but in fact only Frontier had not returned a signed copy. Gillespie said he was never consulted about a continuance and became aware of it only when the order was issued.
A search of the PSC website revealed that four additional formal complaints had been filed only days before, on March 7 and 8, concerning themselves with failures and outages in 911 service affecting Barbour, Brooke, Grant, Harrison, Taylor, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties. Brooke, Marshall and Ohio counties each filed individual complaints, while the fourth was filed by the West Virginia Enhanced 911 Council, addressing issues in all of the counties cited. In each case, Frontier was required to file a response in 10 days, or in the case of these four complaints, by March 17 and 18.
The March 28 continuance, had it run its entire course, would have extended the date of any order in the Pendleton case past that time, effectively keeping the results of that mediation agreement from being released to the public.
On Friday, an agreement was again reached between the parties. A new resolution was drawn up and this time signed by all parties. While the new agreement will be made public, Gillespie says it makes reference to additional documents which are not being publicly released, citing “Proprietary & Confidential” information being contained in them.
“As a part of the agreement, I agreed that it was best, in order to gain an agreement, that each party and the WV PSC execute an additional document that is detailed, but, ‘Proprietary & Confidential,’” Gillespie said.
He went on to say, “In summation, I am very pleased with what we (Pendleton County) have gained in the agreement and over time, I believe that the entire Pendleton County Frontier territory will see improvement and Pendleton 911 will have much more robust, reliable service to our all-important 911 Trunk Lines.”
Contacted for comment on the matter, Frontier had not responded by press time.
The terms of the mediated agreement are as follows:
- Frontier agrees to evaluate and resolve any trees and limbs that exhibit a safety or service-affecting situation on 911 trunk lines, current and future planned routes.
- Frontier agrees to establish an escalation channel for any safety or service-affecting issues to Frontier’s lines caused by trees, limbs, or poles identified by the PSAP, or individuals residing in the area, throughout its Pendleton County territory.
- Frontier agrees to reinforce with Technicians that they are required to report for resolution—through Frontier’s established reporting process—any safety or service affecting issues to Frontier’s lines caused by trees, limbs, or poles they encounter while working on a customer’s service in Pendleton County. Frontier call center personnel will keep Pendleton 911 informed of response times to the scene of traffic obstructing and emergency conditions.
- Frontier agrees to and is addressing situations, and areas where pictures were taken, presented during the Mediation Hearing.
- Frontier will evaluate redundancy concerns and implement any changes technically feasible and cost effective that will further protect the PSAP and customers residing in Pendleton County and has agreed to implement the redundancy/diversity steps as set forth in the “Proprietary and Confidential” document by the stated deadline.
- Frontier will inspect all secondary power supply to remote cabinets in the field serving all Pendleton County residential and business customers and replace any that show signs of failure. Frontier will notify all customers by bill message of the availability of a back-up power source for modems in the event of a power outage. Frontier agrees to take the steps set forth in the “Proprietary and Confidential” document as it relates to the power backup of critical field gear serving the Pendleton PSAP.
- Frontier agrees to strive to restore out of service conditions for residential and business customers within 24 hours as per the Public Service Commission service quality metrics. The nature of a highly complex and interconnected telecommunications network means that service issues arise for a whole host of issues, including many outside of Frontier’s control like third-party conduct, weather, an unstable commercial power supply and the like.
- A separate “Proprietary and Confidential” document has been provided to Pendleton Emergency Services containing detailed explanation of the above and a time frame in which each step is to be completed. With a successful mediation, Frontier agrees to adhere to the timeline and perform the tasks referred to therein.
- The Parties acknowledge that this settlement represents a negotiated compromise of opposing views on numerous issues and that the particular compromises reached here apply only to the unique circumstances regarding the specific complaint and allegations by Pendleton County in this proceeding. It shall not constitute an admission by Frontier of any liability or violation of law. It may not be cited or relied upon by any third party in any proceeding, nor shall it be cited or relied upon by either Party, except in a proceeding to enforce its terms.
- The Parties agree that each term of this settlement is an integral part of the whole. If this settlement is not accepted in full by the Commission, each Party reserves the right to oppose any aspect of the settlement, including those aspects which the Commission or its Administrative Law Judge has accepted without modification.
3.The undersigned represent that they have the authority to sign this Stipulation.
- This Stipulation may be executed in counterpart or by electronic signature, or both.
- This Stipulation constitutes the entire agreement of the Parties on the subject matters to which it applies.