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Frontier phone, Internet outages climb in storm's aftermath

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frontier Communications, West Virginia's largest telephone and Internet service provider, received more than 8,400 reports from customers about outages and other problems in the aftermath of the snowstorm that swept across the state Tuesday.

"We definitely have some people out of service," said Frontier spokesman Dan Page. "We're getting our folks in the field where we can, as soon as we can."

By Tuesday morning, Frontier had received 6,300 "trouble tickets" -- requests for service. The number of service calls increased by 2,100 by day's end. 

The company used batteries and generators Tuesday to help keep its network up and running after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy knocked out power throughout West Virginia.

"We are constantly assessing our networks and moving our crews and equipment to keep customers connected," said Dana Waldo, senior vice president at Frontier.

Frontier has more than 500,000 customers in West Virginia.

With roads still covered with slush and snow, Frontier crews struggled to reach remote facilities that lost power during the snowstorm. Tucker County was especially difficult to traverse, Page said.

"The problem is getting to sites that are inaccessible because of downed trees and poor road conditions," he said.

Frontier gave priority Tuesday to keeping phone lines working at 911 emergency centers, he said.

The massive storm knocked out electricity to 32 of Frontier's 230 central office facilities, which house telephone switches and other critical equipment.

All but three of those facilities, however, were still up and running, powered by batteries or generators, Page said. 

"We're working to get the others working," he said. "This is a snapshot. The numbers are constantly changing."

Page said Frontier didn't immediately have a count of the number of West Virginia customers without phone and Internet service.

The company was trying to determine how many remote terminals -- smaller facilities that house equipment -- were affected by power outages.

"Except for the Wheeling area, the problems were widespread," Page said.

The storm knocked out power to more than 250,000 homes in West Virginia. "We have asked our crews to work as quickly and safely as possible to respond during these conditions," Waldo said.

Waldo said many homes without power still have phone service, if those houses have corded phones plugged directly into Frontier's network. Cordless phones won't work without electricity.

Page said Frontier crews must wait for power company workers to repair severed and downed electrical lines before phone cables can be restored.

"We can't get in the way of their restoration efforts," Page said. "We go behind them."

Page said the June 29 derecho caused significantly more outages. The summer storm knocked out power to half of Frontier's central office switching facilities.

"The derecho really tested us," Page said. "This time, we were more prepared."

Frontier has spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading its landline network during the past two years, Page said. The improvements helped reduce the number of outages Tuesday, he said.

"The system is far more durable than it was," Page said. "The investments are paying dividends in terms of service reliability."

Frontier urged residential customers to call 1-800-921-8101 to report fallen phone poles and cables.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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