Frontier Files Bankruptcy, States No Changes To W.Va. Customers

Apr 15, 2020

West Virginia’s main landline phone provider filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late on Tuesday.

The request, filed by Frontier Communications in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, is waiting on approval from a federal judge.

It’s unclear when, but eventually Frontier also will need the West Virginia Public Service Commission to approve the terms of whatever settlement the company reaches with its creditors.

Frontier runs two West Virginia subsidiaries and serves roughly 300,000 customers with its landline phone service, according to the recent findings of an audit the commission ordered in August.

That audit also finds Frontier was serving roughly 175,000 DSL internet customers in September 2019, whose service is not regulated by the public service commission but is provided along the same copper cable network that facilitates landline communications. 

Frontier notified the state it was filing bankruptcy in a letter on Wednesday, saying “the reorganization of Frontier through the bankruptcy process is expected to improve the company’s financial and operational status to the benefit of its customers.”

Both Frontier and the Commission have stated the bankruptcy announcement won’t change publicly regulated landline services and rates.

“All Frontier customers need to know that the bankruptcy filing will not affect their service,” said Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane in a written statement Wednesday. “The Commission will be closely monitoring this proceeding to ensure that West Virginians will not see any disruption of service.”

Frontier and its two West Virginia subsidiaries were recently the focus of a more-than-160 page focused management audit on the company’s capacity to manage a copper cable network for landline phones it acquired in 2010. According to the audit, that network is more than 49,000 miles long.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission ordered an investigation of Frontier’s management of its landline phone network in August 2018, after customers and a union representing Frontier employees requested an investigation. It selected an auditing firm, Schumaker & Company, a year later. The commission received that completed audit in March. 

Auditors found that the company has lost thousands of customers in the last decade as people have gotten rid of their landlines. That means the company lost money they would have used for maintaining landline phone infrastructure. 

The audit also states Frontier isn’t performing enough preventative maintenance on its aging infrastructure.

Many of these details — including specific customer numbers, and the length of Frontier’s network — were redacted in a public version of the audit Frontier contributed on March 26. A journalist for Ars Technica found last week the audit was improperly redacted.

The commission has shared it received nearly 2,000 complaints about landline phones from Frontier customers in the last year. 

The state was supposed to hear a formal response from Frontier to the audit by April 20. In a written statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Allison Ellis, senior vice president of Frontier’s regulatory affairs said the company might seek a “short extension” for its response.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.