GEORGETOWN, S.C. — South Carolina regulators are investigating whether a communications company is spending money properly after a small Georgetown County community didn’t have landline phone service for nearly a month.
People who live in St. Luke, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Georgetown, say their community is so isolated that cellphone service is spotty and landlines can be a lifesaver.
Frontier Communications uses aging copper wires instead of fiber optic lines and that’s why it took 24 days to fix the outage that affected more than 20 customers, state investigators said.
“Frontier indicated the network equipment that caused the extended outage was antiquated, no longer supported by the manufacturer, located in a remote area, and ‘had run its course,’” the Office of Regulatory Staff wrote in a report obtained by The Post and Courier of Charleston.
Rural phone companies get state money to keep up equipment in exchange for providing service. Regulators are asking how Frontier Communications is spending the $6.6 million it gets from the Universal Service Fund each year.
“Frontier has used the support it has received from the South Carolina Universal Service Fund for the purpose intended by law — making affordable telephone service available to our South Carolina customers,” the Connecticut-based company said in a written statement. “Frontier will cooperate with any audit of the Company’s use of those funds.”
Jimmy Young said the phone outage caused a recent health scare to be even more stressful. Home alone while his wife was at church, the 74-year-old grandfather felt his blood pressure drop.
The home phone by his recliner hadn’t worked for weeks. Cellphone service sometimes doesn’t work, but Young said he went ahead and called 911. The signal was going in and out and he was weak, so Young said he just kept repeating his address.
Young said he felt better by the time paramedics arrived. But the stress of not being able to immediately reach for help is hard to forget.
“It’s hard for me to tell you now how long it was. It seemed like it was forever,” said Young, a former steelworker.
Frontier Communications is publicly traded and operates in around 30 states. But the decrease in landlines has hurt the company deeply. Its stock price has fallen from more than $80 per share to less than $1.