Marathon Co. residents cite landline outage concerns in Athens, Hamburg, Ringle, Rosholt and other areas

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MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) -- Several areas in Marathon County are emerging as trouble spots for Frontier phone service outages after 7 Investigates aired a special report last week showing elderly residents across Wisconsin with medical concerns wait an average of 3 weeks before their landlines are restored.

Complaints to DATCP (in blue/light blue) and complaints emailed to 7 Investigates (in red) (WSAW Photo)

At least ten people in Marathon County have directly contacted 7 Investigates since that report, nine of whom cite elderly parents and other relatives with Lifeline or medical concerns living in rural areas of the county without reliable cell service--or a way to call 911 in an outage. In those emails, areas emerging as trouble spots include the cellular-poor regions around Athens, Hamburg/Little Chicago, Ringle and Rosholt.

Another ten complaints in Marathon County submitted to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections from 2018 to 2019 also cite extended outage concerns in areas north of Wausau and areas around Edgar. 3 of the 10 cite medical concerns, while several of the emails sent to 7 Investigates cite Lifeline or significant medical incidents that make outages in cellular-dead zones a particular concern.

Some of those affected by weeks-long outages include two neighbors in the cellular-poor Ringle area who both cite medical situations and depend on land lines for emergency situations.

“Both my neighbor & I have medical situations that involve our spouses and depend on land lines for communications with them,” Anthony Povilaitis wrote.

“I worry about [my mother’s] safety everyday because she goes months without phone service,” another Edgar resident wrote of her mother living in a cellular-dead zone area. Terri Parker said her mother has had severe medical issues and lives alone.

Over and over, customers say both in complaints submitted to the state and in emails to 7 Investigates that they have alerted Frontier that they have medical concerns or Lifeline, but they say that typically does not speed up repair dates.

A 7 Investigates analysis of complaints submitted to the state about Frontier Communications extended phone service outages revealed that elderly residents with medical concerns waited for an average of more than three weeks--22.24 days to be exact--before Frontier restored their landline after an outage. Many of them waited much longer. The average outage time for the entire group of complaints was just shy of 3 weeks, at 20 days.

As one Wausau resident put it in 2018, it was a matter of life and death for her elderly mother who lived alone and relied on a Medical Alert system, or Lifeline.

Marathon County is currently holding discussions about what role the county should play in addressing the issue of extended outages for residents who are left without a reliable way to call 911, including an upcoming Infrastructure meeting on Thursday.

For the Frontier response to 7 Investigates’ special report, and to read that report in full, click here.