Morgan County 911 tells state that Paw Paw phone outages leave citizens isolated from help

by Kate Shunney Morgan County’s 911 Emergency Telecommunications has filed a formal complaint with the West Virginia Public Service Commission against Frontier West Virginia, Inc. about frequent phone outages in the Paw Paw exchange area. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state agency that regulates the operations of utilities, including phone companies. Frontier Communications owns and operates the primary telephone lines in our area, including phone lines for the county’s 911 system. On July 22, Morgan County 911 filed a formal complaint about Frontier’s quality of service in the county. In particular, 911 Director Ronald Mason told the PSC that a single Frontier phone line that connects landline phone customers in Paw Paw – in the “947” exchange – is not sufficient to enable Paw Paw residents to reach the Emergency Communications center. “There is a single transmission line which connects Paw Paw to the switch in Romney. When that line gets severed anyone who has a 947 exchange number can’t reach the 911 trunk lines as that are isolated from calling 911. Sometimes these outages last weeks,” Mason told state regulators. Mason has asked that Frontier be forced to create a “redundant loop” from the 947 exchange area to the company’s switch in Romney. That would allow a resident in Paw Paw to call 911 and still have their call go through by being rerouted on another line. Deputy 911 Director Marshall Younker said a private meeting in Paw Paw with emergency responders and local representatives was held before the complaint was filed. Over the last two years in particular, residents in Paw Paw have reported numerous and lengthy Frontier phone outages. These make it impossible for a home phone to reach 911. Paw Paw’s location has limited cell coverage as well. Mason explained to state regulators that a single Frontier service line to the Paw Paw phone exchange leaves residents there vulnerable to frequent loss of phone service, including to 911. “According to Frontier, there is a 29-mile run of transmission line…which connects the ‘947’ exchange area to the Frontier switch in Romney, WV. When that line gets severed, goes out, or becomes unusable, the Paw Paw area (also all of the 947-exchange area) becomes ‘an island all its own’ and the citizens of that exchange area can only call another ‘947’ number. “Our 911 center is located within the city limits of Berkeley Springs, and thus has a ‘258’ exchange number. When the line goes down these people can’t call 911 at all, and not just my 911 center,” Mason wrote in his complaint. “These citizens pay their state mandated 911 fees like all of our other citizens, yet they don’t know if they need emergency assistance if they will even be able to dial 911,” Mason said. The phone line issue also effects Hampshire County residents who live in the 947 exchange area, he noted. Mason told state officials he has tried to work with Frontier to get the issue resolved, but came to understand that the company has “no desire nor plans” to install a redundant loop, or added line in the area to ensure 911 connection. Mason said the phone company referred him to state utility laws, which say the company can’t be held accountable for their lines not connecting to the 911 center, “even if someone should die as a result,” he wrote in the complaint. Mason pointed out that the problem existed long before he became 911 director in 2019. Many Paw Paw residents are familiar with the issue. “To make this matter even more serious: neither I, my Deputy Director, nor anyone at the Morgan County Emergency 911 Communications Center knows, or are notified, when that transmission line in Paw Paw goes down or goes out and due to such there have been times that line went down for weeks on end,” said Mason. “What did our citizens in that area do for 911? There is some cellular coverage but it is limited. I assume if they had an emergency, they handled it themselves?” Mason told utility officials. He has asked Frontier to install another line from Paw Paw to their switch in Romney, or a line from Paw Paw directly to the 911 center in Berkeley Springs. According to state documents, Frontier Telecommunications accepted an offer of mediation with the 911 Center and the parties held their first confidential mediation session on September 1. A second session has been set for September 12. Citizen input needed Mason is seeking information from any Morgan County resident with a phone in the “947” exchange area that has been affected by the phone service issue as it relates to 911. He issued this notice: The Morgan County Emergency Communications Center is requesting that any citizen who possesses a landline telephone with an exchange number of “947” and that has attempted to call “911” only to have the call fail to go through should contact the Communications Center at 304-258-0305, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center is requesting a name, landline phone number, address and date the incident occurred, if known. An on-duty Emergency Telecommunicator will document the information and provide it to the 911 Director.