HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Since January of 2017, the Federal Communications Commission has received more than 900 complaints from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, regarding Suddenlink Communications.
While there may be more, the FCC is only required the keep the last three years' worth of records available.
Carrie Bignall lives in South Charleston and is a Suddenlink customer. She says every day around 2 p.m. the internet strength drops.
"We need Suddenlink to come out and upgrade these old lines or do something to give us better service," Bignall said.
Following are FCC complaints by state:
702 - West Virginia
145 - Kentucky
95 - Ohio
Some cities in our area that filed complaints include:
175 - Charleston, W.Va.
49 - Hurricane, WV.
29 - Saint Albans, WV.
18 - Elkview, WV.
13 - Dunbar, WV.
32 - Pikeville, KY.
17 - Elkhorn City, KY.
11 - Gallipolis, OH.
15 - Cross Lanes, WV.
Our sister station WSAZ went through and read each complaint, ranging from billing issues to outages and dropped service.
From Rush, Kentucky filed in August 2019:
"Over the last year, we have made 125 calls to our provider due to our internet being out. It will go out almost every day."
Chris Pritt is an attorney in Charleston and a Suddenlink customer of nine years. He said up until the last few months, he hasn't had any issues.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says an internet outage lasting at least nine days forced him to head back to the office to complete his work, even though he was trying to work from home.
"That’s the troublesome thing for me, is how this is impacting people’s lives,” Pritt said.
Customers who say they aren't getting anywhere with the company are sending their frustrations to larger organizations like the Better Business Bureau, the FCC, local senator and the attorney general's office.
We asked the FCC about that process and they provided this statement:
"The FCC’s Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division (CICD), part of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB), is responsible for processing informal consumer complaints filed with the FCC. CICD also responds to consumer inquiries about telecommunications issues, provides the public with educational materials, and provides real-time complaint data to inform policy and drive enforcement action."
Consumers file complaints through the FCC’s online Consumer Complaint Center (see https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us) or by calling 1-888-Call-FCC. Complaints can be filed under the category that best describes the consumer’s issue:
• Access for People with Disabilities
• Emergency Communications
A consumer who files a complaint will receive an email with a confirmation that their complaint has been received. They will also receive periodic updates for certain types of complaints. They can respond directly to one of those emails to update their complaint.
Consumers may be contacted by an FCC consumer representative for more information necessary to process the complaint.
When all required information has been gathered, if a complaint is about a telecom billing or service issue, the FCC will serve the complaint on the consumer’s service provider, which has 30 days to send the consumer and the FCC a response about their complaint.
Complaints filed through the Consumer Complaint Center are “informal” complaints. There is no fee for filing an informal complaint.
If the consumer is not satisfied with the service provider’s response to their informal complaint, the consumer can file a rebuttal, which undergoes a similar process. If the consumer is still not satisfied they have the option to file a formal complaint. The formal complaint must be filed within six months of the date of the service provider’s response to the informal complaint. The current fee for filing a formal complaint is $235, but it is subject to change.
Formal complaint proceedings are like court proceedings. Each party must comply with specific procedural rules, appear before the FCC and file documents that address legal issues. Parties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC's procedural rules. No attorney fees may be awarded.
Consumers who file complaints contribute to federal enforcement and consumer protection efforts on a national scale and help the FCC identify trends and track the issues that matter most.
CGB also administers the Consumer Complaint Data Center, where aggregated informal consumer complaint data is available, as well as charts, graphs and APIs. See: www.fcc.gov/consumer-help-center-data
“I just can’t imagine how people are adapting to this," Pritt said. "It’s very very clear based on your research that it’s a huge problem. Nine hundred complaints? I mean, that’s an outrage, that should outrage anybody.”
Chris Pritt also filed a complaint with the West Virginia Attorney Generals office and got a response pretty quickly.
Patrick Morrisey's office tells WSAZ since 2017, they've gotten more than 1,200 complaints about Frontier and almost 1,100 other complaints about Suddenlink.
"We’ve been able to solve many thousands of them through the mediation process," Morrisey said. "File those and then we put a lot of pressure on these companies to do the right thing and be receptive and we need to do more."
The attorney general's office could not confirm or deny an investigation into the matter but did speak to WSAZ generally about what that would entail.
"If a consumer is promised a product and they say that it’s going to be fast internet and it’s going to be a specific speed, they deserve the ability to get that," Morrisey said. "When you break your promise, that becomes a deceptive ad or deceptive practice, that’s where we can step in."
For those working from home, like Natasha Kerensky, when the internet strength drops, it means an actual loss in income.
“This has caused a bloody nightmare and a lot of stress with me,” Kerensky said.
Kerensky also filed a complaint with the attorney general's office and received a letter, which resulted in a credit, but didn't necessarily fix the problem. She pays for 1 GB of data a month but is only getting about 400 Mbps on average.
"It's ridiculous," said Kerensky, who checks the internet speed daily.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, is not immune to the problems either. As a Suddenlink customer, he experiences the same issues as his constituents.
"I can’t even watch a newscast at night. When I’m in Charleston and see the full thing without being interrupted 15 times and I keep having to read lips," Manchin said.
He has been involved in a legal battle with the FCC to make sure that the coverage maps, which dictate funding for the expansion of broadband are accurate. According to their latest data, they say 98 percent of West Virginians have access to high-speed internet, a stat he calls "plain wrong."
"They're bragging, we're covered here, we're covered there," Manchin said. "You're not even covered in downtown Charleston."
Those who spoke to WSAZ say they'd like to see more competition, which could hopefully inspire better service.
"Can you imagine if we had 5G right now if Charleston or any part of our state was wired? How it would flourish, quality of life," Manchin said.
Parent company Altice USA provided a statement to WSAZ. It reads:
Suddenlink has a longstanding relationship with the many towns we serve throughout West Virginia, and we are committed to delivering the best connectivity and support to our customers in the state. This includes making major investments in our network, products, and services, including launching 1-gigabit broadband speeds, rolling out our advanced Altice One entertainment platform, and the introduction of our Altice Mobile service, which is available at extremely competitive pricing for our customers.
We take seriously our responsibility in delivering advanced connectivity services to our customers, and in light of the recent pandemic have launched several programs to help our communities stay connected.
We're proud to have signed onto the FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which will help alleviate some of the stress our residential and business customers might be facing during this time and have recently extended our commitment to the pledge until June 30, 2020.
If a customer is experiencing challenges or hardship, they should contact us. More details can be found on Suddenlink.com or on our dedicated Covid-19 page at www.suddenlink.com/keepyouconnected, which has more information about our relief efforts and steps to follow for consumers. We are directing customers to that page in various ways, including digital, television, and radio campaigns.
We are also offering our Altice Advantage Internet (30 Mbps at $14.99 p/month) for free to new households with K-12 and/or college students in our footprint until the end of the school year.
Lastly, we recently announced the creation of a $10 million Community Relief Program aimed at supporting the recovery efforts of small and medium-sized business customers (SMBs) across the Company’s footprint. As SMBs face economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, this program will provide financial assistance and resources to customers facing financial pressure so they can recover and resume normal business operations.