Sunday, March 25, 2018

Frontier says Internet service is restored after outages; customers say otherwise

TAMPA — Frontier Communications' introduction to Tampa Bay on Friday turned into a frustrating slog for customers who reported major Internet outages even as the company by day's end suggested all was going well.

Frontier had promised a smooth transition after its $10.5 billion deal to takeover Verizon's Internet, TV and landline telephone service.

But many customers awoke to inoperative Internet connections that continued all day and became angry after reading media reports quoting Frontier officials saying they had fixed early outages by 9:30 a.m.

"They're lying," said Clearwater real estate attorney Marc Silverman, whose office Internet was out all day. "Maybe their spokesman should call me."

Near the end of the day, Frontier spokesman Bob Elek indicated problems customers were experiencing were just the normal, everyday problems often reported to any Internet providers. On normal days, he said, 500 to 1,000 people may report service problems.

"I don't think all of these customers are having problems as a result of the transition," he said. "Thus far, I have not been told anything about any widespread issue. There are a lot of people not having any issues."

The Tampa Bay Times received more than 100 reports from Frontier customers, many saying their service had been out most of the day. They were sprinkled all over the region, from Polk County to St. Petersburg, Tampa to Bradenton. Frontier has more than 500,000 Tampa Bay customers.

And social media was replete with customer complaints. Frontier responded to a few direct complaints on Twitter, apologizing for the inconvenience and asking customers to contact them.

Some people told the Times that Frontier customer service representatives told them their service could be out multiple days. Silverman, the real estate lawyer, said he was told his service would be out "no more than six days."

Again, Elek said that did not sound correct. "That shouldn't be happening," he said.

For many businesses, the outages were more than just frustration and inconvenience. With many taking orders or communicating with customers online, the loss of an Internet connection impacted their financial bottom line.

Kevin Gonzalez, the general manager of an aluminum distribution company in Tampa, said his firm was losing $10,000 an hour because its phone service is connected to the Internet and customers could not call to place orders.

"If customers can't get through to us, they'll call our competitors," Gonzalez said.

Chuck Riedinger, a service manager for health care equipment provider Medical Technology Associates in Largo, said the loss was akin to being transported back in time before the existence of the Web.

"We're back to using the telephones and faxes," he said. "We're going to have hundreds, if not thousands of emails in our inbox whenever the service comes back. This is incredibly frustrating."

Counts Johnson, a residential builder who lives and works in South Tampa, said both his home and office Internet were out.

"I'm kind of giggling about it now," Johnson said in the late morning. "But as each hour goes by, my blood pressure goes up."

Steve Williams, president of Infotect Design Solutions in Tampa, said he sent five of his eight employees home after it was clear his Internet outage would last all day.

Told that Frontier indicated service outages were just run-of-the-mill problems unconnected to the transition from Verizon, Williams expressed frustration and said his company had never experienced anything like this.

"It's unprecedented," he said.

Carlos E. Gonzalez of Bradenton works from a home office for Ceridian as a vice president of Customer Success Operations, and he said his Internet had been out all morning.

"I just packed up my office," he said. "I am going to drive to the nearest Starbucks so I can connect to their WiFi."

AT&T wireless customers throughout Tampa Bay also experienced outages Friday morning because of a "local service provider issue," the company stated. AT&T would not elaborate and it was unclear if the Frontier problems had anything to do with the AT&T outage.

AT&T said it also experienced problems in Texas and California, where Connecticut-based Frontier also is taking over Verizon assets. And Frontier also appears to have suffered outages in those states.

The city of Plano, Texas, for example, said its website was knocked out because of "nationwide" outages of Frontier service.

At 12:15 p.m. — after early-morning outages had supposedly been corrected — Frontier reported on its Facebook page, "At Frontier, every customer matters. We are working hard to resolve customer concerns in California, Texas, and Florida."

Frontier, which has set up a regional headquarters in Tampa, made the rounds with local media in the weeks leading up to the takeover of the Verizon assets, both to explain what consumers could expect and to say they did not foresee major problems.

In 2014, Frontier's acquisition of AT&T's Internet, TV and landline services in Connecticut resulted in a flurry of glitches after the company had promised a seamless transition. Problems included insufficient numbers of trained customer service personnel to handle calls and an incorrect forecast by Frontier of the number of homes technicians could service in a day. The top complaint: interruption of high-speed Internet service. The company offered $10 million in credits to inconvenienced customers.

Mike Flynn, Frontier's regional president overseeing operations in Florida and the Carolinas, said Frontier had learned hard lessons from that experience that would be applied in Florida.

"I would never say we're 100 percent certain it will go perfectly," Flynn said. "But we're doing everything we can within our power . . . from the experience we've gleaned from every conversion we have done to make the next one better. So I'd just say we're pretty experienced at it."

Elek, the Frontier spokesman, said a cut fiber optics cable in Tampa caused early morning issues, though he said those were quickly resolved and did not cause problems beyond the morning.

It remains unclear what caused problems later in the day since Frontier said it was not seeing widespread issues. Frontier officials had said last month that the transition involved transferring terabytes of data — a trillion bytes — from Verizon to Frontier computers, in some cases on different operating systems.

Williams, the president of Infotect Design Solutions in Tampa with experience working on IT issues, said he thought Frontier's problems were some sort of logistical problem.

"Clearly, something in the handoff went wrong," he said.

As for his own company, he said he called Frontier's competitor, Bright House, to change service providers.

"I'm done," Williams said. "I don't want to take the chance that my service will be out beyond Monday."

Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] or follow @Times_Levesque.


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