Frontier Agrees to Regular Meetings With House Committee, Liaison
Frontier Communications agreed Wednesday to quarterly meetings with the House Technology and Infrastucture Committee, as well as the creation of a liaison between the company and the committee for constituent complaints.
The agreements come as Frontier is wrapping up a national Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, and a few months after the Federal Communications Commission announced it would award the company more than $247 million over the next 10 years for broadband deployment, through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
“It really positions us even better,” said Allison Ellis, Frontier senior vice president of regulatory affairs, during a hearing with the committee. “Because we are freed from the $10 billion worth of debt that we [were] previously trying to shoulder, and that will give us more flexibility in the RDOF work that we're doing.”
Frontier, a national telecommunications company, is the state’s main landline phone provider. After acquiring territory formerly owned by Verizon in 2010, the company made a series of commitments to the Public Service Commission, which regulates the company for landline phone service, to expand broadband access.
Although its coverage is nearly statewide, Ellis said, only about 14% of the state’s population uses Frontier for voice services and only about 10% are Frontier internet customers.
Most recently, in bankruptcy agreements and following a third-party audit of the company’s landline and broadband offerings, Frontier pledged to spend $200 million on capital improvements by the end of 2023, and to expand its broadband fiber offerings to at least 150,000 households by 2027.
Additionally, in applying for funding through RDOF, Frontier committed to raising nearly another $250 million in private capital to fund the construction of broadband infrastructure, in addition to the FCC’s $247 million.
The RDOF announcement was met by opposition from several state lawmakers, including those on the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee, and U.S. Sen Shelley Moore Capito, who said in December the company’s mismanagement and delays in past federally funded programs “raises significant questions about their ability to manage federal funds of this magnitude.”
Ellis said through restructuring, Frontier is in a better place to handle these projects now.
“I will also say that on a go-forward basis, the company is committed to a very rigorous approach to any additional borrowing. We absolutely want to guard against any future financial difficulty,” Ellis said. “We think that we're just not going to have the issues that we had previously.”
Members also heard from the company on the results of Frontier’s performance review audit for the PSC, as well as previous efforts to build out to unserved West Virginia communities through federal funding and emergency response efforts.
The committee first invited Frontier representatives to a hearing in late February. They also received documents from Frontier related to the company’s progress on federal funded broadband expansion programs, as well as a settlement with the West Virginia attorney general's office in 2015.
House Technology and Infrastructure Chair Daniel Linville suggested toward the end of Wednesday’s hearing that the committee will be inviting more providers in the future.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.