CHARLESTON – It has been nearly a year since Frontier Communications emerged from bankruptcy and agreed to follow orders from the West Virginia Public Service Commission to improve its telephone and broadband services. Frontier said Thursday she was on track to honor her pledge.
PSC members held an informal status conference at its Charleston headquarters Thursday morning with representatives from Frontier to receive an in-person progress report from the telephone and internet service provider.
Frontier Communications emerged from bankruptcy in May after filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2020, wiping out more than $ 10 billion in debt and reorganizing itself into another company.
The PSC agreed to a settlement agreement in January between Frontier, PSC lawyers, the Consumer Advocate division of the PSC and the Communication Workers of America union, including approval of Frontier’s bankruptcy reorganization plan. The PSC also accepted the results of a targeted management audit of the company.
The two PSC orders placed strict conditions on Frontier to improve its copper telephone and Internet services, as well as to expand its fiber broadband Internet service. Under the PSC-approved Joint Stipulation Agreement, Frontier has agreed to spend $ 200 million on capital improvements by December 31, 2023 and to deploy high-speed fiber-optic internet in at least 150,000 locations in the state by Dec.31, 2027, with an annual expenditure of $ 50 million.
In the order of the PSC, Frontier is required to send the PSC several reports, including how it plans to spend the $ 200 million, including monthly and annual monitoring reports. But PSC president Charlotte Lane thought it would be good to invite Frontier leaders to hear their progress firsthand in an informal setting.
“We just wanted to know what their plans were and how they had improved service in West Virginia,” Lane said after Thursday’s meeting. “They told us how they modernized their fiber optics and treated the fixed service. We just wanted to get an update from the people in charge of the company on how they are trying to provide better service to their customers in West Virginia.
Frontier has a 25-state footprint, but West Virginia is one of only two states where Frontier has a complete monopoly on telephone service. Since coming out of bankruptcy, Frontier has generated $ 6.6 billion in profits at the end of the third quarter starting in November. Of this amount, $ 2.6 billion is adjusted revenue.
Nationally, the company has 2.8 million broadband subscribers, with 160,000 broadband subscribers in West Virginia and 263,000 voice subscribers. In the third quarter, Frontier built 185,000 new fiber locations with 29,000 new customers nationwide. In West Virginia, Frontier has targeted 25,000 new fiber locations by the end of December and hopes to achieve that.
Allison Ellis, Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Frontier, explained that a fiber location is defined as a home connected to Frontier fiber or fiber on the pole that can be connected later if the house becomes a new customer.
“When we talk about fiber in our fiber commitment… we actually mean fiber to the premises” Ellis said. “We mean that an individual household will be able to connect to fiber optics in their home and that a sole proprietorship will be able to connect to fiber optics in their business. “
West Virginia’s landline network will continue to use copper, but Frontier officials hope that by expanding fiber, customers will subscribe to Frontier’s voice service that uses the fiber network. Currently, the fiber network is superimposed on the existing copper network.
Much of the work in 2021 is focused on upgrading networks in Charleston, Clarksburg, Beckley and Falling Waters in Berkeley County. Frontier officials believe that upgrading these towns in the first place will help generate new customers and new income that can be used to expand further into rural areas. Frontier will use the same model in 2022, expanding to 14 cities.
Frontier will also work to expand service to unserved and underserved parts of the state. The company is one of nine Internet service providers in the state portion of Phase I of the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. RDOF Phase 1 awarded West Virginia $ 362.1 million to expand broadband Internet service to 119,267 unserved census tracts in West Virginia over the next 10 years. Frontier was the largest recipient of RDOF dollars, taking home $ 247.6 million.
Frontier officials also plan to apply for the various grant programs through the state’s Department of Economic Development, funded by the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout act for top expansion. debit. The state will receive $ 136 million from ARPA for broadband. This state can also use part of the $ 1.36 billion it received for broadband infrastructure.
West Virginia is also set to receive a minimum of $ 100 million for broadband expansion projects throughout West Virginia and unserved parts of the state under the $ 1.2 trillion bill. dollars on investment and jobs in infrastructure.
Lane said they expected to have another informal status update hearing with Frontier in six months.
“We are very satisfied with what they have done” Lane said.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]