Regulators fine Frontier $5M and order ‘reckless’ fiber-optic work in CT halted

Photo of Luther Turmelle
A photo shows the installation of fiberoptic conduit inside of an Eversource electric conduit, which state utility regulators said is not safe. Connecticut regulators said Frontier Communications was responsible for this unsafe practice by a contractor.

A photo shows the installation of fiberoptic conduit inside of an Eversource electric conduit, which state utility regulators said is not safe. Connecticut regulators said Frontier Communications was responsible for this unsafe practice by a contractor.

CT Public Utilities Regulatory Authority

Connecticut utility regulators have ordered Frontier Communications to pay a $5 million fine for practices associated with the “reckless”installation of fiber-optic cable around the state, and demanded the Norwalk-based telecom company to halt the work.

In a notice e-mailed to Frontier executives on Thursday, officials with Connecticut’s Public Utilities Reguatory Authority said they believe the company is “jeopardizing public safety through reckless and inappropriate underground installations in the public right-of-way.”

A PURA spokesman said the civil penalty can be appealed by the company.

“The authority’s inquiry into Frontier’s installation activities indicates that Frontier and its contractors have been “deploying fiber-optic cables in the public right-of-way using inappropriate design and construction standards and specifications, which has resulted, and will continue to result, in damage to underground natural gas and electric distribution facilities,” the 9-page notice said.

“These actions put at risk the health and safety of both the public at large and the workers involved,” the order said in part.

PURA’s cease and desist order requires the company to stop “all underground installations until Frontier demonstrates to the Authority’s satisfaction that the Company can and will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”

The notice said “Frontier and its contractors have continually violated numerous statutes and regulations,” including under the Call Before You Dig rules, despite warnings.

Chrissy Murray, a Frontier spokeswoman said company officials “appreciate the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) bringing the issue with our contractors to our attention and have taken immediate steps to remedy the situation.”

“We hold ourselves and our contractors to the highest standards,” Murray said. “We are working constructively with PURA and our contractors to fix any issues so we can continue our build to provide the state with this critical service. We are proud to have a large fiber build in the State of Connecticut, bringing fiber to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the state so that customers can have the fastest, most reliable connection available.”

PURA officials contend that Frontier’s contractors have been: “using unsafe excavation practices for trenchless excavation.” In addition, regulators said the company’s contractor are “improperly using existing electrical conduits for road crossings, and failing to properly notify the utilities after making contact with or damaging underground facilities.”

“Not only are Frontier and its contractors knowingly and willfully violating the law, the contractors appear to be fraudulently concealing the violations in some instances by using fake conduit,” regulators said in part. “The Authority has reason to believe that Frontier, through its contractors, has improperly performed numerous unsafe excavations as part of the expansion of its fiber optic network.:

The cease and desist order cites at least eight instances in which Frontier contractors damaged conduits of other utilities. In particular, the order cites a May 6, 2021 incident in which a contractor, Parkside Utility Construction LLC, damaged a gas line to 166 Hull St. in Ansonia.

The investigation determined that Parkland neglected to “hand dig and expose the gas service under the driveway when attempting to cross the service, as required for trenchless excavations,” according to the order. Parkside, which is based in Pennsylvania, was assessed and paid a civil penalty of $1,100 for this incident, according to PURA officials.

That contractor also, according to Call Before You Dig reports, damaged utility conduits seven times between mid-May 2021and the end of last year. Those incidents occurred in Enfield, Middletown, Meriden, Stratford, Waterford and Wallingford, where two conduits were damaged.

Officials with Parkside and its parent company in Florida did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment Thursday and Friday.

Dave Weidlich, president of Local 1298 of the Communications Workers of America, represents Frontier employees who are doing some of the installation work. Weidlich said officials with the Hamden-based union local “have been concerned about Frontier’s use of contractors for over two years.”

“We thank PURA for recognizing the importance of this issue and hope that Frontier will recognize the value of using our Connecticut workers to build out the network,” he said.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com