PHOENIX — A June 2 press release from the Arizona Corporation Commission stated that ACC Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson submitted a letter asking the commission’s utilities, compliance and enforcement division to conduct a thorough investigation of Frontier Communications for multiple service outages that affected Arizonans’ ability to contact 911 operators.
That request was placed on the ACC’s June 8 agenda for discussion, and with a unanimous vote, commissioners opened an investigation of Frontier for the 911 outages and for the adequacy of its equipment and facilities.
Appearing telephonically on behalf of Frontier were Senior Vice President Allison Ellis, Regulatory Affairs and an attorney.
On behalf of public safety in the White Mountains, St. Johns Police Chief Lance Spivey and Lt. Alden Whipple of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office also appeared telephonically.
Ellis was first to answer the commissioners’ concerns regarding the 911 issue.
“We understand the concern and view it as critical. We care about our customers and apologize for the recent issues, and work is already underway,” she said.
With redundancy also an issue of concern, Ellis offered that redundancy is part of the overall system and network review that Frontier is undertaking.
She said that most of its service is rural and the company is looking at a way to enhance performance of its network and has a number of different strategies it is looking at in order to establish that review.
Spivey, who has been St. Johns’ police chief since 2017, said that since the time he has been in his position Frontier’s 911 service has failed to work properly at least eight times, and the only way police knew there was an outage was when they discovered they had no services.
“People in this area deserve 911 service,” said Spivey. “They should not have to worry that 911 is not going to work when we need those services.”
Whipple, who has been a lieutenant for three years and with NCSO for 13 years, told commissioners that between Navajo and Apache counties there are 180,000 sustained residents and 20,000 to 50,000 more in the summertime.
NCSO and ACSO together cover 21,000 square miles. The police and sheriff departments have both the vehicles and equipment to provide the services that are needed for citizens.
“Dealing with the issues from Frontier in my position,” said Whipple, “I did research, and over the past three years there have been 150 ticket items submitted to Frontier; that comes down to 50 per year, one per week, or every 10 days, we are submitting a ticket to Frontier for some issue we are having with them. This is unacceptable.”
Whipple said there were major outages this year in April and May over northeast Arizona that lasted several hours at a time.
During those months there were 180,000 citizens who had “no 911, no police, no fire and no EMS.” said Whipple.
As to the redundancy issue, Whipple said he was glad that had been brought up because NCSO has the technology, and the lack of redundancy hinders officers and staff to do their jobs.
“Please take appropriate action to look into this,” concluded Whipple.
The June 2 press release stated, “Recently culled data demonstrates that Frontier Communications had multiple service outages, which prevented Frontier customers from reaching emergency responders when they dialed 911 in times of need. Some outages were as short as just over an hour, while others lasted for as long as nearly 35 hours. In sum, reports show a total of 19 outages since April 2020 in 11 different communities, totaling over 130 hours of outages for Frontier Communications customers.”
In that same press release, the ACC’s Marquez Peterson said, “These outages are egregious and unacceptable. ... They represent a clear risk to public health and safety. Residents of affected communities deserve much better. The lack of accountability is especially concerning. We must get to the bottom of this.”
Speaking at the June 8 hearing, each of the commissioners were called upon to weigh in on the Frontier issues.
Commissioner Sandra D. Kennedy said she is not surprised at the issue with Frontier and that the commission should take strong action and “not just do something to be doing it.”
Commissioner Justin Olson had no comment other than to thank law enforcement officers for their participation.
Commissioner Anna Tovar said she would like to see some solutions. “It is very frustrating. We need to hold the company accountable and prevent any type of catastrophe that could happen.”
Commissioner Jim O’Conner told the Frontier representatives that they have a public relations problem of enormous proportion based on what the commission is hearing regarding critical failures, and that Frontier has a history of delay.
“Your house is burning down. Talk to us,” said O’Conner.
Frontier’s Ellis responded, “Part of our review is to improve equipment and responses. We hear the concerns and are committed to working with staff and public officials. We are prepared to work as collaboratively as we can.”
Before calling for the vote, Peterson said the 911 outage issue is urgent, as is the adequacy of Frontier’s equipment and facilities.
According to ACC, Frontier Communications is a telecommunications and internet service provider that consists of three separate entities: Frontier Communications of the White Mountains; Citizens Utilities Rural Company; and Navajo Communications Company. Collectively, the companies provide service to tens of thousands of Arizonans throughout the state, particularly in rural areas and communities such as Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and Show Low, among others.
The ACC will now move forward with the investigation.