Representatives from Frontier Communications were on the hot seat before the board of supervisors.
For Frontier, the biggest concerns were “killer squirrels,” software glitches and money.
For board members and Frontier customers, the biggest concerns seemed to be unreliable service and the inability of people to get information from Frontier.
Jacqueline Kinney, vice president of state and governmental affairs for Frontier in California, and Tim Watts, local manager for Frontier, discussed the situation with the board May 16.
Frontier serves the portions of Plumas County located north of Quincy.
Watts informed the board that there were five major Internet outages this year in northern Plumas County: two caused by “killer squirrels” in Lassen Volcanic National Park and three caused by software glitches.
Unlike human teeth, the teeth of squirrels are continuously growing. Watts said the squirrels come out of hibernation and their teeth have grown to the point that they can’t close their mouths. The squirrels desperately need to wear their teeth down. Fiber optic cable seems to be the high tech item of choice of squirrels for accomplishing this task.
Watts said the squirrels actually take bitten-off pieces cable down to their dens to feed their families.
Frontier has tried wrapping poles with slick surfaces to keep the squirrels away. However, Watts pointed out, the squirrels can fly, so they simply glide onto poles from adjacent trees.
Watts told the board that Frontier can’t use poisons in the national park so they are installing 22,000 feet of armored cable to keep the squirrels at bay.
Watts noted that fiber optic lines go to Westwood after coming through Lassen NP.
Watts said software problems are causing “data bursts,” i.e. when too much data comes in to a server all at once, “flooding” the server and causing the affected server to crash. He noted that the software for the servers arrived with the glitches already contained in it.
He said software has been upgraded in two of four servers in his area to help prevent these crashes from reoccurring.
Lack of communications
Supervisor Kevin Goss told Kinney, “We’ve gotten together over and over again with Frontier and we have gotten nowhere.”
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said ”Your local guys, I can’t praise enough, they are hammered every day [by people upset with Frontier’s service].” However, she added, “Frontier’s service has been so poor, that some of our businesses have had to pay for two Internet service providers.”
Finally, Thrall said, getting information from Frontier is almost impossible: “You fill out a trouble ticket and never hear from Frontier again.”
Thrall said that board members needed some way to get information from Frontier, so they can pass that information along to people in their districts.
Watts told the board that Frontier would add board members to their “key customer contact list.”
Kinney promised the board that she and Watts had heard the board’s concerns and would do something to “formalize the process.”
Progress to date
Frontier claimed at the meeting that they have brought $220 million into California in the last six years. That money came from grants through the federal Connect America Fund, from state funds and from Frontier’s capital funds.
Watts said that Frontier has been providing telecommunications service to northern Plumas County since 2005. He said Frontier’s efforts currently are to keep building up the capacity of the system.
Service in the area is largely through fiber optic cable. However, some remote areas are served by copper wire, called metro Ethernet and wireless. Watts noted that Keddie and Indian Falls are still without adequate service.
With time, Watts said, Frontier is working to replace copper wire with fiber optics cable, move contact boxes closer to customers’ homes and increase the bandwidth of existing fiber optic cable.
Watts said fiber optic cable has been extended west almost to Taylorsville.
Watts noted that the armoring of the fiber optic cable through Lassen NP cost $160,000.Kinney explained at the meeting, however, that Frontier has no additional work planned for Plumas County for the rest of 2017.
Challenges for Frontier
Kinney noted that the California Public Utility Commission has several criteria that Frontier must apply when deciding where to spend Connect America Funds.
On Frontier’s part, it doesn’t want to spend state grant money in parts of California where federal money is already going.
According to Watts, there are also economic issues. Providing for new and better Internet connections costs a lot of money. He said that installation of new poles, for instance, costs thousands of dollars each.
Watts said there are also technical issues. Transmission towers require signal separation, which requires tower redesign and permitting. Watts also noted that it is difficult to send a wireless signal through dense trees.
Finally, he said, there are regulatory and congressional issues. Watts said Frontier is waiting for the OK for several larger projects. He advised the board that it should contact its state and federal representatives.
“Your voice is one of the greatest voices we have,” to get money for projects and to get projects past regulators, said Watts.
Watts can be reached at 310-5000 or [email protected].