'We have lessons to learn:' Frontier apologizes for AT&T switch problems
Software bugs. Staff training issues. Missed appointments.
Frontier Communications managers outlined a cascading series of problems it encountered in switching over AT&T customers in the first few weeks of November that triggered more than $10 million in customer credits and a sheepish appearance last week before state regulators.
Frontier spent $2 billion to acquire AT&T's operations in Connecticut, including telephone, Internet and video services. It took on 2,300 AT&T employees, with the company already employing about 200 people at its Stamford headquarters.
State Attorney General George Jepsen and the state's consumer counsel had asked the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to get the company's response to service outages and how it approached the overall transition process.
In a hearing spanning more than three hours Dec. 22, a handful of customers relayed their experiences, including Easton resident and network system analyst Jeff Becker, who expressed irritation at his experience during his first three weeks with Frontier.
"One of the techs told me he felt like we'd gone backwards five to 10 years," Becker said. "You took a working and functioning phone system and turned it into Swiss cheese."
Elin Swanson Katz, Connecticut's consumer counsel, suggested Frontier should not take its AT&T customer base for granted, given the plethora of options for the services it offers.
"Obviously, no two businesses operate in exactly the same way, and customers need to know with which issues the companies may have differences in policy or approach," Katz said. "Customers can then decide whether they are going to adapt to that change or pursue other choices."
In hearings to win state approval of the $2 billion AT&T Connecticut acquisition, Frontier's head of external affairs, Kathleen Abernathy, had assured PURA it would switch over customers seamlessly. Last week, she said 99 percent of AT&T customers experienced no disruption, but conceded "that's just not enough" and acknowledged receipt of nearly 2,200 complaints about the switchover.
"We have lessons to learn," Abernathy told PURA commissioners at the hearing. "When we realized that the call center challenges were more than we thought, we had the lag with the training, and that's the one piece that in hindsight I wish we'd anticipated it better."
Frontier did not say how many customers had Internet service interrupted, but outlined problems that triggered some outages and how it responded in attempting to perform high-tech triage. Glitches included Frontier pushing software updates to network devices, with the unintended consequences of those updates knocking those devices out of service; and engineers leaving security filters in place that prevented customers from accessing some Internet services.
"We call this a cut-over," said David Snyder, Frontier's regional vice president of engineering. "In reality, it's more of a disentanglement of an incredibly complicated network."