Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Can Frontier regroup after its bungled Verizon FiOS takeover? Or will this get ugly?

The reviews are in. Five days after the cable TV/Internet switchover to Frontier Communications from Verizon FiOS in the Tampa Bay market, I'm giving Frontier's performance a "C-" with a strong recommendation to improve. Quickly.

I know. Folks and businesses that have no Internet or TV services give Frontier an "F" while those who can't even tell there was any switchover in companies here ask "what's the problem?" while privately expressing thanks for dodging a bullet.

For Frontier, spending more than $10 billion to buy Verizon's FiOS businesses in Tampa Bay and urban parts of Texas and California is a big deal. Frontier has historically been more of a rural provider, so this step-up into some major metropolitan areas is supposed to be the company's leap into the Bigger Leagues.

Let's just hope they don't get sent back down to the minors.

To be fair, any cable TV/Internet company that takes over a substantial network like Verizon FiOS in multiple markets is going to face some problems and harsh criticism from customers who are growing ever more personally and financially dependent on 24/7 digital access.

For starters, Frontier did the right thing Monday and issued an outright apology for its poor kick-off in Tampa Bay, especially after promising a smooth transition.

"Given the size and scope of this transaction, some of our customers experienced service disruptions," Frontier said in a statement. "This is not the result we intended, and we apologize to our customers experiencing any problems."

However, some of the company's statements haven't sat well with customers, including by regional president Mike Flynn, who told the Tampa Bay Times' William R. Levesque on Monday that "We're all set and in great shape" and "I couldn't be more pleased on this Monday."

On Twitter, customers still suffering through service difficulties — including some who are well-known leaders in the business community — vented.

Throughout the day Tuesday, new and frustrated comments responding to Frontier's difficulties were still appearing on Levesque's latest online story.

"To imply that this is a normal outage takes a lot of guts," commented Scott Brown. "During my 10 years with Verizon I do not think there was an outage over 2 hours."

"Hey, Mike Flynn," writes Jay Fluke. "If this is normal I'm going back to Bright House" — the other major cable/Internet provider in this metro area. Of course, Charter Communications is about to close on its purchase of Bright House Networks, so Bright House customers may experience their own transition issues soon.

"I'm in my 6th hour today of phone calls on hold, being transferred endlessly and (in) chats," Andrew Corn of EBS Networks in Tarpon Springs stated in an e-mail sent to me Tuesday afternoon. "Seeing no end in sight."

"I have worked with and for many Fortune 100 companies," upset businessman Bob Showers, owner of AnyLabTestNow in Tampa, said in an e-mail. "This implementation has been a complete and total bust."

Frontier transitions from Verizon FiOS in other states suffered, too. As of Tuesday evening, the website downdetector.com, which monitors a live map of Internet outages across the country, actually registered an uptick in ongoing Frontier problems in Tampa Bay, the Dallas area of Texas and parts of southern California.

On its website Tuesday, Frontier informed customers with FiOS TV service that the "vast majority" of video-on-demand titles may not be available until mid-April. Frontier also told customers of its FiOS Digital Voice service that some features may be down through Wednesday.

In size, Frontier is not a big company. Based on market value, Verizon is 37 times the size of Frontier. Let's hope Frontier is not biting off more than it can chew.

So, Frontier. What's it going to be? A rough week or so of transition angst and headache, then reasonably smooth sailing? Or is this the start of a prolonged mess that could spark federal regulatory concerns and customer defections or, worse, draw lawyers smelling blood in the water?

I'm betting on the former and praying it's not the latter.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]/ Follow @venturetampabay.

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