Elon Musk, Please Save Me From Frontier

Elon Musk. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Like many people living in rural Shasta County, I have had an uneasy relationship with our telephone company, Frontier Communications. We met thirty years ago when I needed a telephone and they were called Citizens. All they provided was plain old telephone service, and generally it worked, so at first we stayed on pretty good terms.

A few years later along came the internet. Like many other communications companies at the time, Citizens didn’t provide dialup internet access. I purchased that from an independent company in Redding. Until a local access number came along, Citizens happily collected the exorbitant “long distance” fee they charged for a phone call to Redding, less than 30 miles away.

Then dialup became DSL, transmitted over telephone lines, and Citizens was in the Internet access business, a potentially lucrative affair. The “high speed” DSL turned out to be better than dialup but slow, not in any way comparable to the cable connections available down in the valley, and the service suffered frequent outages, but there were no other options. Years went by, Citizens became Frontier and my need to be online grew and grew. Frontier and I were wed.

Twenty years later, people are still frustrated at what must surely be the worst telephone company in the US. We have had multiple petition drives to complain about Frontier and many FCC complaints have been logged. Social media is rife with people venting frustration. Consumer Affairs gives them a rating of one star (out of five). One frustrated customer put up a web site called frontier-sucks.com to provide a home for the torrent of complaints pouring in. Predatory billing practices, false advertising, long outages, dreadfully slow data transfer speeds, and a corporate culture of contempt for the customer. That’s the Frontier way.

How’s this for service: When PG&E started shutting off power due to the fire danger in 2019 the entire town of Manton lost telephone and internet service each time because Frontier couldn’t be bothered to run a generator at their Manton office.

It’s like a bad marriage. There is no love, there is a certain amount of hate, but circumstances keep us together. They need my money, I need to get online.

Some years back there was a story that Google was developing a way to provide fast Internet access to rural areas. I believe it involved balloons. It never panned out. Various satellite companies tried to convince us that their service was better, more reliable, faster, but the fine print told a different story. Fact is, satellite service has a latency problem (the latency of a network connection represents the amount of time required for data to travel between the sender and receiver.)

Then along came Elon Musk. The PayPal/Boring Company/SpaceX entrepreneur formed a company called Starlink to lick the latency problem. How? Well, in the simplest way possible, by moving the satellites closer to earth. The entrepreneur has told a conference that the Starlink low earth orbit network will have latency of about 20 milliseconds which could be comparable to cable company connections.

Starlink has been launching satellites into orbit for months, and is approaching the point where a beta test for US customers can begin in the fall. We don’t know for sure if the service can really provide the speeds they claim, and we don’t know for sure what it will cost ($80 a month is a number being cited, but this is not official.)

I hope Starlink isn’t teasing me. Elon Musk has made some great decisions, but he has also made some terrible ones, like his recent push to reopen Tesla despite the Covid-19 restrictions. It has been a long, irritating, tedious relationship with Frontier and now I want to believe I am near the end.

If Starlink works, and if it costs $80 a month or less, there will be a mass exodus from Frontier. Right now most Frontier customers in Shasta County are forced to buy telephone service in order to get Internet access, even though most of us have long since moved on to cell phones. I certainly don’t need or want a landline anymore but Frontier won’t sell me DSL unless I also buy their phone service.

It is hard to provide a comparison of costs because of Frontier’s billing practices. Nobody seems to pay the same price! My monthly bill has ranged from $75 to $95 for a phone line and DSL. Every year or two the monthly bill creeps into the $90 range and I call the billing department and complain for half an hour, threaten to cancel the account, demand a different plan, until they take $20 off the bill. Then month by month the amount ticks up again and the cycle resumes.

What really amazes me about Frontier is how little they have done in the last twenty years to invest in the product they sell. I am getting the same service, at the same speed, that I signed up for twenty years ago with Citizens. Of course you wouldn’t know that if you look at Frontier’s marketing materials which claim a range of data transfer speeds from 6 to 25 Mps. In fact, in Shingletown most customers get 3 Mps regardless of the plan they pick. It is maddening. No surprise to learn that in 2015, Frontier agreed to a settlement in West Virginia over a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company’s DSL services in the region did not meet the advertised speeds (such as advertising 6 Mps but only delivering 1.5).

Today I went to Starlink.com and signed up for email updates and a chance to beta test their service. I hope it works out. I live in a rural area but still want the kind of internet experience that city-dwellers have. If Elon Musk can bring Starlink successfully online, I will finally get divorced from Frontier Communications, the company I love to hate.

Graham Posner
Graham Posner was born in London, England, and arrived in San Francisco 40 years ago clutching a degree in Eng Lit. Everything after that is vague and blurry, but includes stints as a teacher in Osaka, Japan, and as a computer technician for PG&E in the Bay Area. Romance brought him to Shingletown, Shasta County, where he married, built a home, published an independent newspaper, and eventually opened an online business selling posters and art prints.
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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Amen to all you wrote. Com-Pair came to Eastern County a year or so ago; so many of us now have reliable Internet service and no longer have to rely on the dreaded Frontier. However, Com-Pair doesn’t provide e-mail; so I kept my frontiernet.net account. It was fine until a few months ago when suddenly I could Receive but not Send e-mail. Hours of e-chatting with many different Frontier customer “service” reps and being told that “we’re working on it” ended with, “the server has been shut down.” How can I Receive if the server is shut down? I’ve resorted to Frontier Web Mail and a g-mail account, neither of which is particularly satisfactory. By the way, Com-Pair upped our area’s Mps a few months ago at no additional charge.

  2. Avatar Tammy says:

    In this day and age, internet and phone service are essential. Kudos on signing up to do the beta testing.

  3. Avatar Bill Vercammen says:

    Frontier is a relict of a vanishing breed. Their business model for decades has been to buy into the least desirable, and least profitable, hard line and analog assets of big providers like Verizon and Alltel. This strategy hasn’t worked at all well in terms of profitability, and Frontier shareholders may soon inspire a sale of the company. A motion was recently filed by several subsidiaries of Frontier to enter into reorganization protection under Chapter 11.

    Gordon, it wouldn’t surprise me if your worrisome relationship with Frontier doesn’t self-resolve, with or without intervention by Elon Musk. To our north, Frontier Commo in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho has recently been taken over by Ziply, and recent asset sales by Frontier suggest a company-wide short-term survival strategy is in effect. I think Frontier’s larger shareholders are pushing for an outright sale of the company, so you may soon have a new provider altogether.

    So much for pursuing an analog strategy in a digital world, eh?
    Best of luck…

  4. Avatar Larry Winter says:

    We use Viasat satellite service for our internet. Hughesnet is our other choice. Why isn’t this an option for you?

  5. Avatar Randy says:

    “Starlink has been launching satellites into orbit for months”. The first I heard of this came one night watching stars and a ‘fleet’ of satellites, we counted 30, came by. We were hoping for alien invasion but soon found out they just belong to Elon. Should we weigh out the value of some milliseconds of faster data against more and closer space junk flying around? I don’t like Frontier and better than you do.

  6. Avatar Stan says:

    When my wife came home in March and told me she needed to teliwork from home so I scrambled to find something anything. Our solution was to get a commercial grade 4g modem router ( also called a hotspot) mofi4500 which uses a data SIM card and we pay about $100 a month for 500 gigs with at&t. It is hooked to two yagi antenna’s on the roof. We get about 15 mbps down and about 6 up. I plan to put up a parabolic antenna to replace one the yagi’s and expect to double the download speed. We can stream tv and my wife is happy. If you get one or two bars on your cellphone this could work for you. You can get all the equipment on Amazon and search YouTube for the mofi4500. Look for a guy named John Barth. Hope this might help someone.

  7. Avatar Chad Magnuson says:

    Hughes Net has been my preferred internet provider for the past 5 years.
    I e literally tried every wireless service available. There is no comparison with Hughes. Of course I pay more for the faster, yet not fast enough, service.

    My first go round 25 years ago, with these providers was MARKS cable out of Palo Cedric. Based on their crummy service they surely cannot be in business.

    Until these providers step it up to provide what now has become essential service we remain the bastard step children of 21sr century.
    Internet infrastructure is needed now.

  8. Avatar Gary Tull says:

    I’ve never had a cause to deal with Frontier Communications. However I find your ability to convey in writing rises to “the toppermost of the poppermost.” Thank you, Graham Posner for your excellent post.

  9. In case you are not aware Frontier has filed Bankruptcy. It would be a dream if a decent firm purchased their assets and had a cost effective method to deliver reliable internet service in rural areas. The lack of redundancy is their existing network is a huge hurdle as well.

  10. Avatar Zach says:

    All I can get is crap viasat or even worse Hughesnet. I do not even have cell service at my location. I love not having neighbors and having land, but not even having cell coverage is aweful. So ready for starlink

  11. Avatar Moonbeam says:

    Frontier is the worse charges are high poor service and I’m
    Sick of them I live in risk Alabama and every day unplug do this it out phone out bill higher it’s a dam shame dam mess same ole shit it just sad for the customers rip it out throw it away plz

  12. Avatar Bruce Murray says:

    Frontier took over the Verizon lines in my small rural town and I must say that Frontier is a great company…. compared to Centurylink that I have currently. Centurylink offers 1.5mbps for 85$ a month (with phone). On top of that I am in a “Bandwidth Exhausted” area and get around 1.2mbps. Centurylink has no plans to fix it. Frontier is bad but compared to Centurylink they are OK. However both these companies are essentially thieves and liars with monopolies over rural areas and it’s awful.

    I also entered in my email for the Starlink Beta. Here’s hoping !

  13. Avatar d says:

    Frontier rocks in Oregon, they are the best for speeds & pricing. Plus Ziply bought the out months ago. So this rate is pretty much pointless, trash talking a dead company. You only pay what you allow yourself to pay. I have 500/500 down/up fiber optic from Frontier/Ziply now. $40 a month. Thank you Frontier! 2x speed, 1/2 price than Comcast. even in the rural area I used to live in.

  14. Avatar Starr T Cole says:

    On April 3rd 2019 Frontier sold me their virgin of broadband which guaranteed 100 / 100 download and upload to my home computer I have never experienced anything close to that at all and now I am in the quandary of needing high speed internet working from home Wireless this virus takes over our lives. I am speaking this email into my phone from Florida although I live in the Adirondack Mountains in New York state. I have been suffering with Frontier ever since my move from Connecticut to New York 15 years ago. They have not changed and come to find out in talking with an advanced technician in their tech department, Frontier doesn’t even have broadband and have been charging me $113 a month since April 3rd 2019 until today and when I get home to my cabin in the mountains they’re very definitely going to hear from me. Un-freakin’-believable. How people put up with this silly nonsense from a supposedly reputable company is beyond me. I hope Elon that your company is a huge success and I am looking forward to the day when I can hook up with you. As an added Plus my son has been following you for years and now owns a Tesla 3! Paragraph yours truly, Starr Cole.

  15. Avatar Bill says:

    Frontiers major mistake happened when they took on the Verizon acquisition (CA,TX,FL). It was equivalent to Dollar General buying Walmart. Poor leadership and bad financial guidance strapped the company with debt. Debt that made it impossible to invest in bettering their network, and copper to fiber transitions. The Chapter 11 filing should relieve the company of unsecured debt of 11 Billion. Big if here… If Upper Management invests in fiber technology, Frontier could rebound and offer a very good internet service. Where this has been deployed is one of a very few success stories for the company. How the previous CEOs were allowed millions of dollars in bonuses is beyond me (Maggie). They should be in prison. Frontier has a chance to better themselves… The question is will they invest in US workers? Will Upper Management line their pockets with bonuses? Will the Gov. hold them accountable? Or will tech support be full of foreigners with terrible English, only making customers more frustrated? Management continue there yearly million dollar bonuses? If the company is serious about a turnaround then they will start by actually asking the frontline workers how to improve processes. These are the people that see it and deal with the practices that tanked this company. Management put Frontier in this position… will their arrogance and dullisness continue? That is the most important part of making Frontier better.

  16. Avatar michelle I nicolls says:

    Finally, an article that wan’t focused on political opinions or included Bethel bashing. Thank you for diversifying and getting off the same old topics.

  17. Avatar Diane Hawthorne says:

    Thank you, Graham. All too true, I, and most of Shingletown, have experienced the same lack of decent service. Last year my internet service was down for about a week. Technical Support was useless; no one was able to tell me what the problem was other than telling me I was offline. Duh! I finally called corporate headquarters and a woman there put me in touch with a tech support person who knew what he was doing and my service was finally restored. While on the line with the woman at Frontier Headquarters, I requested that I get credit for the time I was offline. She assured me I would. Nope. After 2 or 3 phone calls and two letters to corporate, I received my credit TWO MONTHS later! Frontier is a sad excuse for a communications company, or any company for that matter. Residents of Palo Cedro also are subscribers and have the same complaints, a very bad situation since many are now working from home.

  18. Avatar Laurie says:

    We have Frontier, and when I was reading aloud sections of this letter, my husband asked if I had written it. It’s almost been word-for-word our litany of complaints.

    However, they do have a very good local technician, and if you can get through all the layers to talk to him, he has solved all our technical problems. And he’s honest – he’ll tell you if there are numerous complaints for the same issue in the same neighborhood or if it’s isolated to just your home, whereas customer/tech service will never acknowledge that anyone other than you has called to report the same issue. Unfortunately, he’s no longer allowed to just handle problems directly. In the past, for example, he would just have us drop by and pick up a new modem. Now, everything has to be under a work order.

  19. Avatar Michael sweet says:

    This company is worth less I don’t need a land line charging outrageous money for cabl ere and internet fought with these people to long

  20. Avatar Gus Britt says:

    Remember MCI / Worldcom? Another bankrupt telecom that went under because of their stellar management principles? All those losers joined Verizon when that behemoth only wanted their backbone. Those losers were blended into our legacy former GTE team and things went downhill fast. The smart informed individuals bailed Verizon because they saw the future. Verizon bailed once they got what they wanted. Frontier is still being run by former bankrupt MCI / Worldcom losers. Bankruptcy again was inevitable for this scraping the bottom of the barrel joke of a company. Yes I was one of the smart ex GTE managers to bail before the sale to Frontier.

  21. Avatar Janice says:

    Agree with all the points you make about how craptastic Frontier DSL is an annoying is basically the only choice for those of us in rural areas without having to have a contract. I signed up on starlink website the other day too to know asap when available here I kid you not, I shared this article with a rural neighbor and literally within a couple hours my husband is informing me that the cable truck is outside installing cable on our rural road and attaching it to the house. I’ve been waiting 15 yrs for this day!!! It will be about a month before it will be up and running but we are so close!!

    • Avatar Mike Brown says:

      Hello Janice
      Where are you located? I live in Palo Cedro CA and I have switched to Warp 2. Pretty pricey at $120.00/month for their fastest service which runs between 4-8 mps down on average. Can’t watch Netflix or stream music. It is a constant frustration.

      • Avatar J says:

        I live in Western part of NY State. I can’t wait to kick frontier to the curb. Reading all these comments validate what I’ve experienced with this service and lack thereof. We will be getting the cable internet as soon as it’s activated on our road. I can’t wait. I’m sure there will be some annoyances with them as well but nothing can compare with what we have dealt with coming from frontier. Weirdly last week I received an email claiming that frontier had partnered with another company to test speeds and some other stuff for the FCC. It looked very official from frontier but my sixth sense was alerted. Rather than clicking on it I decided to open a chat with frontier. The person thee could not confirm the email came from them and the the email address it can from would not be one they used. This is the only place I ever publicly commented on frontier and then I get a crazy email like that. I hope others are careful too should they receive a similar one.

  22. Avatar mark says:

    Every time I see bad news about Frontier it makes me smile. You’re probably wondering why I would take so much pleasure in a comapnies failure. I worked for a company owned by Citizens called ELI. ELI had a fiber backbone covering 9 western states. The fiber route was near some very large very profitable tech company data centers in Washington and the bay area of California. I would go into company meetings and the CEO would always show a big zero in the profit column of his presentation for my department. My department was the longhaul fiber backbone for the company. Citizens could never figure out what to do with ELI. We (me and others in my department) begged them to build fiber into the data centers. The geniuses at Citizens sold ELI to buy copper twisted pair local loops (land lines). They senior management had electric utility company background. They had no clue about telecom, no vision for the future. They sold very valuable high speed fiber assets to buy old out dated junk. ELI became Integra. After several tries Integra eventually figured it out and we finally built a very high speed network to carry the data for the tech companies. Integra was bought by Zayo. Zayo wanted the fiber. We all know what happened to Frontier. They were/are a terrible company because the executive management were too arrogant to learn and adapt. I feel bad for their customers but someone will find a way to fill that market when Frontier is gone.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      In 1994, our local newspaper published an article about Frontier’s then-president pulling down $7,000,000/year. That was huge bucks 26 years ago, and for what? Providing mediocre phone service to our rural area. Fast forward a few years, and Frontier began providing Internet service which was dreadful then and remained so. I was having to shut down and restart my Frontier modem anywhere from six to 12 times a day and was told by our local computer guru that it was the very lowest-end modem available. I asked Frontier for a new modem and was given a duplicate of the cheesy one; so I purchased a higher-grade one which helped. When Com-Pair came to our area, most of us jumped on it and have been very satisfied. Com-Pair’s type of service may become a dinosaur if satellite service improves, but for now, it’s a pleasure not to have to deal with Frontier.

  23. Avatar sharky towers says:

    Thanks for writing this! More people should be aware of this. We should be DEMANDING better broadband. Not like when companies like Verizon (which sold a lot of their landline/DSL biz to Frontier) got stimulus (our tax) money last decade and never build the infrastructure. But they damn sure kept the money.

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