PHOENIX — The Arizona Corporation Commission met on August 17 to conduct its monthly Open Meeting. Frontier Communications was on the agenda to provide an update on the 911 outages and the adequacy of its equipment in Arizona. It was the desire of the commissioners that staff complete its investigation on Frontier as soon as possible, yet recognizing the large number of cases they are currently processing.
Opening up the 911 issue, a June 2 press release by ACC stated that Chairwoman Lea Marquez Peterson had submitted a letter to the commission’s utilities, compliance and enforcement division asking them to conduct a thorough investigation of Frontier Communications for multiple service outages that affected Arizonans’ ability to contact 911 operators. That request led to the issue being placed on the June 8 agenda.
Appearing telephonically on June 8 were St. Johns Police Chief Lance Spivey and Lt. Alden Whipple of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office.
Spivey, 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.
Whipple, 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. He said that the two counties cover 21,000 square miles and that in his three year research 150 ticket items had been submitted to Frontier. He said that in April and May of this year there were major outages that lasted several hours and during that time 180,000 residents were without 911 service to police, fire and EMS. He also said that the lack of redundancy hinders officers and staff from doing their jobs.
Frontier’s Senior Vice President Allison Ellis of Regulatory Affairs, also appearing telephonically on June 8, offered an apology for the recent issues and said that work on the 911 issue was already underway as well as on the redundancy issue. She said they are looking at a number of different strategies to enhance performance of its network and that the company cares about its customers and considers it a priority.
Peterson affirmed that the 911 outage issue as an urgent one, as is the adequacy of Frontier’s equipment and facilities, and following discussion among the commissioners, the June 8 vote was unanimous to move forward with the investigation.
According to ACC’s highlights summary of the August 17 Open Meeting, Frontier reported they are hardening their system to help eliminate 911 outages in the future, but suggested that even with improvements outages may occur due to such things as third-party cable cuts and electric company power outages which they cannot control.
Stating the 911 issue as a life and death matter, along with the belief that Frontier needs to be more proactive in dealing with the issue, commissioners asked Frontier if the experience and ability of its board of directors and management could direct the company on a path to bring the 911 outage issue to “an absolute minimum.”
Some commissioners indicated that Frontier may not be the proper entity to provide telecommunications/911 service to rural Arizona.
Though ACC would like the issue to be handled as soon as possible, they said they recognize that staff in currently processing a large number of cases.
Once the current investigation is completed, staff recommendations may contain recommendations for improvements to Frontier’s system and/or a recommendation for an Order to Show Cause (OSC) against Frontier which could result in sanctions.
ACC reports that 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.
Following the Aug. 17 update, the Independent reached out to Spivey for comment.
He stated in an email, “I am pleased to see that the Arizona Corporation Commission is conducting a thorough investigation into the failures that have plagued the 911 system maintained by Frontier Communications. I hope that the investigation continues and Frontier Communications is held accountable for these failures and their poor performance as a 911 provider. By holding Frontier Communications accountable and with a 911 provider being selected to provide 911 services for the City of St. Johns and the entire region, people will not have to worry about whether or not 911 will work during an emergency.”
According to NCSO, Whipple was out of town and was not available for comment.
The Frontier investigation is ongoing by ACC’s Utilities Division.