CenturyLink’s franchised service territory (shown in blue) covers all or parts of Perry, Juniata, western and central Cumberland, Franklin, Adams, Bedford, northern Fulton, northwest Lancaster, northern and central Butler, southern and western Huntingdon, eastern Blair, northern Mifflin, eastern Centre, western Clinton, and pieces of Dauphin, Mercer, Lawrence, Armstrong, Clarion, and Venango counties.

PUC Seeking Comments on Settlement with CenturyLink

On Thursday, Sept. 15, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted 3-0 to request comments on a proposed settlement between CenturyLink and the PUC’s Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement (I&E). This followed I&E’s informal inquiry into the company’s alleged outages, unreliable service, and general incompetence during Hurricane Ida last year.

I&E opened proceedings against CenturyLink after a formal complaint filed by me as well as state Sens. Judy Ward (R-Blair/Huntingdon/Fulton/Franklin/ Cumberland) and Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin/Perry) in September 2021 — an action precipitated by then weeks-long telephone outages, ongoing maintenance issues, and inadequate service experienced by CenturyLink customers. We requested that I&E look into whether CenturyLink was complying with Pa. Code Title 52, §63.57 (relating to Customer Trouble Reports) and 66 §1501, specifically the requirement that service shall be “adequate, efficient, safe, and reasonable” and that “[s]uch service all shall be reasonable, continuous, and without unreasonable interruptions or delay,” along with any other violations of code or regulation as deemed appropriate.

CenturyLink blamed hurricane-caused flooding at its Philadelphia offices (way outside the company’s franchised service territory, see map) for the difficulties.

The following violations by CenturyLink as a rural incumbent local exchange carrier were alleged by the I&E:

  •   Failure to provide reasonable, continuous service.
  •   Failure to address or repair the service outage in a reasonable amount of time.
  •   Failure to respond to downed wire or poles and/or broken poles in a reasonable time.
  •   Failure to provide adequate customer service and address outages related to Hurricane Ida.

Under conditions of the proposed settlement, CenturyLink agrees to the following:

  •   Pay a $45,000 civil penalty, which will not be tax deductible or able to be passed through as an additional charge to CenturyLink customers in Pennsylvania
  •   Implement numerous measures:
  o   Continue putting into place its Quality Assurance Program (QA), launched in January 2022, to better analyze, audit, manage, and tackle customer service calls. CenturyLink will modify the QA, as needed, to ensure that repair tickets are created. (I&E notes CenturyLink installed a call-back feature in December 2021 to give customers an option to verify repairs. I&E believes the QA and call-back feature will address many concerns.)
  o   CenturyLink will meet with the PUC Bureau of Consumer Service (BCS) by December 31, 2022, and again in 2023, as needed or requested by BCS, to review informal customer complaints received about repair tickets for regulated voice services.
  o   Regarding service in Perry, western Cumberland, and Juniata counties, CenturyLink will provide to I&E:
  >   A summary of any preventative measures or additional facility buildouts.
  During the rest of 2022 and throughout 2023, CenturyLink will meet with area legislators to review potential customer issues and provide updated company contact information. CenturyLink also will relay updates regarding facility buildouts.
  >   CenturyLink’s downed pole protocols and practices will be circulated within internal company operations and customer care groups and be incorporated into employee training. CenturyLink also will regularly release Public Service Announcements with information on how to report downed poles, downed wires, or other damaged CenturyLink facilities.
  >   CenturyLink will review and revise internal processes involving trouble tickets associated with downed poles, wires, and damage so that problems are responded to within a reasonable time. As part of this, CenturyLink will complete outreach and education efforts, no longer than 60 calendar days after a PUC order approving the settlement, with organizations that commonly deal with downed wires and/or poles, notably local fire companies, police departments, 911 call centers, and municipalities.
  >   The remedial plan will run through December 31, 2023, but could be extended.

You can submit comments, preferably via the PUC’s electronic filing system, within 25 days of publication of the order in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. An e-file account may be opened free of charge and used through the commission’s website. The case is Docket No. M-2022-3028754

Paper comments may also be filed with the PUC Secretary’s Bureau:

Rosemary Chiavetta, Secretary
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120

I also encourage you to log CenturyLink service breakdowns with BCS (or phone 800-692-7380), or contact my office for assistance. 

In all, the excuses and stonewalling by CenturyLink must stop. I continue to hear too many tales of CenturyLink equipment laying on ground for more than a year without attention, fire and rescue vehicles waiting hours at the site of an accident for CenturyLink crews to arrive (which never happens), and customer unrest about deficient “high-speed” Internet coverage. Unfortunately, CenturyLink Internet service is not PUC-regulated, but patching up landlines will definitely help bolster Internet connectivity.

My concern with CenturyLink remains: it’s the only telecommunications option for many residents in Perry, Juniata, and western Cumberland counties. As a local phone company, it must stop being the problem and become the solution in delivering world-class voice and broadband service to rural Pennsylvania. With the pending sale of CenturyLink systems in 20 states (including Pennsylvania) to Brightspeed, a new telecommunications and Internet provider, let’s hope for a sea-change in performance.