TAMPA — Frontier Communications' expansion into Florida, which its chief has called "very successful," is getting a big Band-Aid — an "action plan" to fix lingering service problems.
The announcement Thursday comes after prodding from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who met with Frontier officials Wednesday to address service outages since Frontier's takeover of Verizon's landline phone, TV and Internet service April 1.
"Communications services are critical to the daily lives of our customers, and we apologize to every Tampa Bay area customer who has experienced service disruptions," said Frontier's senior vice president and general manager of Florida operations, Melanie Williams.
Frontier said its plan includes:
• Bill credits for every customer who has reported a service outage that will be applied by the end of June. Frontier had previously said it would provide refunds to only those customers who request one.
• Using a U.S.-based call center as the "first choice call response team" when Florida residents call customer service to report problems. Frontier also said average call wait times are now between 30 seconds and two minutes.
• Establishment of a special residential customer care phone number for the next 30 days. The number is 888-457-4110, which will be staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
• Creation of a "SWAT Team" to coordinate rapid response to service outages.
The company said it had completed the training of 1,200 Verizon technicians who became Frontier employees April 1, allowing Frontier to address a higher number of service calls than previously. And Frontier said it would finish loading 100,000 additional titles on its video-on-demand service in the next several weeks.
Customers have complained about missing shows and movies or buggy video-on-demand service since April 1.
Both Bondi, whose office has received 721 complaints about Frontier since the takeover, and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose office has received 144 complaints, both publicly called out Frontier this week for its service issues.
Those have included lengthy service outages, technicians who repeatedly fail to show for scheduled appointments and customers who complain about seemingly clueless customer service representatives. Customers also have complained about the difficulty in understanding workers at Frontier's foreign call centers.
"I am cautiously optimistic that Frontier's disruptions in service will be quickly resolved," Bondi said in a news release. "However, my office will continue to work with the company on each consumer complaint until they are all appropriately addressed."
Frontier CEO Daniel McCarthy told Bondi in a letter Wednesday that less than 1 percent of the 3 million customers affected by the transition in Florida, Texas and California had experienced service outages. About 535,000 of those customers are in Florida, mostly in the Tampa Bay area.
"However, we are not satisfied with that result," he said. "While service has been restored for the majority of these customers, there are still many frustrated customers."
But little more than a week ago, McCarthy indicated to financial analysts during a conference call about the company's earnings that Frontier had put its problems behind it. He had acknowledged the company responded slowly to complaints.
"This disappointed some customers and resulted in some negative publicity in the market," McCarthy told analysts on May 3. "We now have these issues resolved and behind us."
Michael Bremmer, a telecommunications consultant and CEO of Telecomquotes.com, said Frontier officials look silly trying to downplay what to their customers and the world at large looks like a major debacle.
"If you have a problem and you just step up, say you're sorry you've screwed things up, then it's not that big a deal," Bremmer said. "But when you deny over and over again to try and make it go away, you're just adding fuel to the fire."
Some customers remain angry at Frontier's response.
Antonio Amadeo, a resident of Davis Islands in Tampa, said he lost his landline phone starting April 1. This created difficulty because his mother-in-law is in hospice care at his home, and her medical care is often coordinated by phone.
"I called Frontier five or six times and just gave up," he said.
Amadeo's service was restored Wednesday after intervention by Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. Amadeo checked his voice mail for the first time in more than 40 days.
He had 47 messages.
Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432. Follow @Times_Levesque.