Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Business

Frontier Communications won't release customers from contracts for service outages

TAMPA — Frontier Communications officials confirmed Friday what many customers have already been told: The company won't release anyone from their contract in cases of long-term service outages.

If customers cancel their contract, they will still be charged an early-termination fee.

Some customers in Tampa Bay and elsewhere continue to suffer through outages for their TV, Internet and landline telephone service that may stem from Frontier's takeover of Verizon's assets starting April 1. Some report their service has been out a week or more and have sought to switch to another provider.

Frontier spokesman Bob Elek told the Tampa Bay Times, "While all customers will be eligible for service credits on a case-by-case basis, contracts will remain in force."

Earlier this month, Frontier said it would consider giving customers a prorated credit based on the amount of their monthly bill and the length of a service outage — if a customer asks for the credit.

"Being out of service is obviously not good and we regret every instance where we have not met expectations — that will be factored in to the service credit situation," Elek said in a statement sent to the Times.

The company, Elek said, will honor all conditions of Verizon contracts, including price guarantees in promotions. He said no customer under contract would see a price increase, something Frontier confirmed before the takeover of Verizon assets in Florida, California and Texas.

"Regarding customer contracts, the same terms and conditions apply," Elek said. "Frontier is working daily to improve the experience for customers who have had issues during integration, and we hope they will provide us with the opportunity to earn their trust going forward."

Land O'Lakes resident Stefanie Flohr said her home had been without Internet service for 13 days. Her TV service was still connected, though that went out last week.

Despite fruitless calls to Frontier customer service without a fix, and a broken promise to send a technician to her home, Flohr said she got fed up and simply told the company she wanted out of her contract so she could get service through another provider. Frontier refused to let her go without charging her a $240 early-termination fee.

"They said, 'Be patient. We're trying to restore service to many people,' " Flohr said. "They're not holding up their part of the contract, so let me out of the contract. That's just a bad business practice."

Flohr's service was finally restored Thursday.

Early-termination fees for canceling a contract differ depending on the service provided. Frontier says on its website that those fees range from $50 to $400. Typical fees are in the $200 range.

Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications industry analyst, said service providers usually refuse to let customers out of contracts. He said he understood customers' anger.

"These service contracts that we all sign without reading are a disaster," he said. "But when a company is not providing service, what are customers suppose to do?"

On Frontier's website, a copy of a service agreement says a customer may cancel service if Frontier fails to "remedy any ongoing breach of the terms and conditions" of the contract within 30 days of a customer's written notice of such a breach.

But it is not clear exactly what Frontier might consider a legitimate breach, and by Elek's comments, it appears that the company does not consider a lengthy service interruption as qualifying.

Tony Pais of Pinellas Park, who decided to cancel his service, thought he was lucky because his contract was already set to expire on Saturday. So he called Frontier. But he was stunned to have a representative tell him his contract would not expire until 2026.

Pais said he didn't bother to ask what the early-termination fee might be. He said the Frontier employee is clearly wrong, but he still worried that the company might nonetheless insist he was still under contract.

Pais said the representative he spoke to insisted it was true, telling him such contracts "are very rare."

"Right," Pais said. "They're so rare, they don't exist."

Contact William R. Levesque at (813) 226-3432 or [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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