CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Public Service Commission staff and the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division have recommended that $15.1 million be released from a quality-service escrow account to Frontier Communications for improvements the company has made to service quality.
"At the outset, Frontier must note that the support of the staff and CAD for this request has been hard-won and, as explained in the objective data set forth below, deserved," the company wrote in comments filed Friday.
"Frontier's huge investments in improving the network in West Virginia over the last 21 months are paying off in much better service quality enjoyed by Frontier's West Virginia customers and in significantly reduced complaints at the commission."
Verizon set up the $74 million quality-of-service escrow account by order of the Public Service Commission in May 2010. The money is to be drawn out, with approval of the commission, for expenditures like restoring copper infrastructure, maintenance, additional employees, right-of-way maintenance and vegetation control, according to a statement from the PSC at the time.
The PSC staff's recommendation does not guarantee the money will be released. The final decision rests with Public Service Commissioners Michael A. Albert, Jon McKinney and Ryan Palmer.
"We went through their expenditures and they all seem to be appropriate expenditures for the purpose of improvement to service quality," said Byron Harris, who heads the Consumer Advocate Division of the PSC. "Here in 2012, finally, service quality has started to improve at Frontier."
Harris went on to say the CAD is encouraged by the improvements Frontier has made to its service quality but that Frontier "still has quite a ways to go to reach the level of service quality that phone customers in other states get."
Two parties -- Lumos Networks LLC and the Communications Workers of America -- question or oppose releasing the funds, according to the company's comments. Lumos Network claims there have been no sustained, tangible improvements to service quality, and the CWA claims there has not been sufficient information to determine if Frontier's expenditures led to improvements in service quality, according to the company.
Frontier is less than two years into a four-year service quality improvement project and significant progress has been made, the company wrote.
Frontier invested $68.2 million in West Virginia in the last half of 2010, and made a $115.1 million investment in 2011. In April 2011 through March 2012, Frontier's network troubles dropped by 12.4 percent compared to the year before Frontier took over the Verizon West Virginia service territory, from July 2009 through June 2010.
Frontier originally filed for a release of the funds late last year, arguing that its expenditures have lead to improvements in service quality in West Virginia.
The breakdown of costs Frontier is seeking reimbursement for is as follows: $3,868,022 for blitz crew work; $8,193,866 for cable replacement, $150,795 for updating and verifying customer records at the central office level; $1,383,847 for network elements, $334,873 for rehab identification; $74,451 for training; $230,688 for tree trimming; $727,385 for allocated employee tools and $148,385 for allocated vehicle leases.
"We committed to improve the network and customer service, and the data show that we are making significant progress toward meeting our ultimate goal of providing service that meets our customers' expectations," Dana Waldo, senior vice president and general manager for Frontier, said in a written statement Monday.
The Public Service Commission has no statutory deadline to decide on the case, PSC spokeswoman Susan Small said.
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.