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Frontier crews work on Pacific Coast Highway, near Malibu Park, on Jan. 4. As of last week, the communications company said that it had completed nearly 900 out of 1,250 customer service requests in the Woolsey Fire burn area. Suzanne Guldimann/22nd Century Media
Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
8:43 am PST January 16, 2019

Frontier Communications continues to rebuild infrastructure and restore service to hundreds of customers in the Woolsey Fire burn area in Malibu and unincorporated Los Angeles County, but it is an agonizingly slow process for residents left without phone, internet or cable service more than two months after the wildfire.

“We have received approximately 1,250 customer service requests thus far and completed nearly 900,” Javier Mendoza, Frontier’s vice president of corporate communications and external affairs, told the Malibu Surfside News.

Mendoza assured the Surfside News that Frontier is making progress. 

“We have four times over our normal workforce, with technicians and resources from across California helping to complete the restoration of the Woolsey Fire damage,” he said.  

Nearly 150 Frontier-owned poles, and approximately 421,000 feet — nearly 80 miles — of fiber-optic and heavy-gauge copper cable, were destroyed in the fire and have to be replaced.

“We started work as soon as the Fire Incident Command deemed it safe for our crews to enter the burn area,” Mendoza explained. “We follow an order of installation in coordination with other utilities — usually power, cable, then finally telephone (copper and fiber-optic lines) are placed. By December, we were working along the Pacific Coast Highway, where we have mostly completed our service drops, connecting points to the network infrastructure. We will continue working in the nearby streets and canyons.”

Frontier’s restoration work is expected to continue until March, with customers being restored incrementally as work progresses. That can be frustrating for customers who are still waiting while their neighbors have already had service restored for weeks. 

Mendoza explained that the restoration process is dictated by the path of the fire. Frontier customers in the hardest-hit areas like parts of Point Dume and Malibu Park, and those in most remote areas of the Malibu burn zone will continue to have the longest wait, while new poles and cable are installed.

For canyon residents who have other options for landline phone service and little cell service, the lack of communication resources can feel like being plunged into an earlier century.

Frustration with the service provider has been intense, spilling over onto local social media, as dozens of disconnected residents shared stories of hours spent on hold with customer service, the contradictory information they received when they actually connected with a customer service representative and the aggravations of trying to live with no service for more than two months, with few answers. 

Mendoza endeavored to answer some specific questions raised by Malibu residents. 

He stated that all Frontier customers who have experienced service interruption will receive credits for the outage, and that late fees will not apply. 

“Frontier is providing out-of-service credit to all the customers with a trouble ticket since Nov. 9, 2018, the date when the Woolsey Fire reached Malibu,” he explained. “The account will be credited once service is restored.” 

Frontier customers who have switched to another service during the outage may have a harder time sorting out their bills, and families who lost their homes also may face challenges. Some residents who have lost their homes in the fire reportedly have been unable to receive refunds, and are being billed for equipment like cable boxes that was destroyed in the fire and cannot be returned.

Mendoza initially explained that customers whose homes were burned would have to wait until service was restored before sorting out billing credits, apparently unaware that the rebuilding process in Malibu can take years. 

After looking into the situation, Mendoza clarified that Frontier will waive early termination fees and equipment fees provided the customer can show proof their residence has been lost.  

As for customers who had their hopes raised after receiving a text stating their service issue had been resolved only to find that it wasn’t, Mendoza explained that it is essential that they call customer service, explain the situation, and request a new ticket number. 

Mendoza said that the company is moving as fast as it can to restore damaged and destroyed infrastructure. 

“I can’t imagine what people are going through,” Mendoza said. “Our thoughts are with them. We want people to know what we are doing. Our crews are out there every day, sun up to sun down. We want to keep Malibu connected.”