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Now and Then - Dr. Roger Branch Sr.
Frontier's payment rule hurts the poor, elderly
Dr  Roger Branch March WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

Frontier Communica-tions has notified me by letter and email that in the future, customers who “go paperless,” receiving and paying bills online or by phone, will do so for free while those who receive and pay bills by mail will have a new charge of $2.99 a month added. That is somewhat misleading because “paperless” payment has always been free. This new monthly fee for those of us who are more at ease paying by check in the mail and those who cannot access “paperless” payment are being penalized.

The real issue is that Frontier is cutting operating costs by reducing the number of employees needed for handling bills and receipts. Moreover, payments by credit card or electronic bank withdrawal brings in money almost instantly. That might be good for business, but it is not good for all customers.

These are hard times for the elderly. Proportionately, COVID-19 has killed more of them than other segments of the population, reduced contact with family and community and weakened support networks. Inflation fueled by aspects of the COVID pandemic and Putin’s war is devouring their fixed income financial status. Many do not own or have access to computers for online billing and payment. Those that do might be unskilled in some of their operations. 

My two teenage great-granddaughters know far more than I about this infernal machine. Seniors are becoming more cautious about money transactions in the midst of so many scams aimed at the elderly. Frontier’s new fee disproportionately impacts the economically insecure in ways cited for the aged and more. Access to computers is even more limited as are skills in their applications. 

While cell phones are more common, knowledge about how to use them in e-commerce is limited. Credit cards, so valuable for convenient payment, are not easily obtained or maintained by those without money to support them. So, how are they to receive and pay bills paper less? They are being punished for being poor.

This “paperless or pay a penalty” policy is just the latest on my list of complaints with Frontier. Service is bad. Transmission lines that have not been upgraded in the 52 years that I have lived in this neighborhood are squirrel-gnawed and storm-battered. (So are the Georgia Power and Vyve cable lines.) Service interruption is frequent. The local business office was closed long ago. Effective communication about problems and issues depends upon which “technician” you get on the phone. There are many accent variations among those who use the English language. I can handle South Georgianese, academic specific and a couple of other versions of English, but there are some that fall meaningless on my increasingly deaf ears.

It is time for Statesboro’s city fathers — mayor and council — to call Frontier into account. For a fee paid to the city, Frontier operates as a franchised monopoly. Thus, city government has a degree of power and responsibility in how it serves its citizens. It is possible to ask for immediate changes, like ending this fee and beginning to replace transmission lines with underground fiber optic lines. After all, Bulloch Telephone has done so, as has Pineland Telephone over miles in Candler, Tattnall and Emanuel counties. Longer term, the city can inform Frontier that the franchise will be open to bids at the end of the current contract with the stipulation that the next provider will modernize equipment and transmission lines and improve customer service. I suspect that Bulloch Telephone can and will do that.

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

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