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VP Biden Announces Broadband-Challenged Rochester, N.Y. Home to National Photonics Institute

Vice president Biden

Vice President Biden in Rochester, N.Y.

Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo today announced Rochester, N.Y., a city notorious for its slow broadband, will be the home of the $600 million Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation, a hub supporting the development of photonics — technology that powers everything from fiber optic broadband to laser surgery.

Rochester, the home of dramatically downsized household names like Eastman Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb, could see thousands of new high technology jobs created in the western New York city to develop new products and services that depend on light waves.

“The innovation and jobs this institute will create will be a game changer for Rochester and the entire state,” said U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, (D-Rochester). “This is a huge win that will shape our region’s economy for decades to come.”

Slaughter reportedly spent three years working to bring the center to Rochester and helped secure $110 million from the Defense Department and another $500 million in state and private sector funding to finance its development. The project could prove transformational for a community ravaged by downsizing, most dramatically exemplified by Eastman Kodak, which had 62,000 workers in Rochester during the 1980s but employs fewer than 2,500 today.

Today, Rochester’s largest employers are no longer manufacturers. Health care service providers now lead the way, including the University of Rochester Medical Center/Strong Health (#1) and the Rochester General Health System (#3). Upscale grocery chain Wegmans calls Rochester home and is the community’s second largest employer. The bureaucracies that power the Rochester City School District and Monroe County Government are also among the area’s top-10 employers.

rochesterDespite the job shifts, the fact 24,000 workers in the region are already employed in photonics-related jobs may have been a deciding factor in selecting Rochester for the center.

“The photonics center we are now bringing to Rochester will harness the power of the Defense Department and the prowess of Rochester’s 24,000 employee-strong photonics industry and focus it like a laser beam to launch new industries, technologies and jobs,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Employers, small business start-ups and workers moving into the region are likely to be considerably less impressed by Rochester’s incumbent telecommunications service providers. Although institutional and large commercial fiber networks are available to those with deep pockets, with the exception of Greenlight Networks, a local fiber to the home retail overbuilder providing fast gigabit fiber Internet to a tiny percentage of local residents, the area’s fiber future remains bleak.

Time Warner Cable, by far the largest Internet provider in the region, has left Rochester off its Maxx upgrade list, leaving the city with a maximum of 50/5Mbps Internet speed. Frontier Communications still relies on 1990s era DSL service and the anemic speeds it delivers, evident from the company’s poor average speed ranking — 11.47Mbps — less than half the minimum 25Mbps the FCC considers broadband.

Rochester is hardly a broadband speed leader in New York State, only managing to score in 332nd place. (Image: Ookla)

Rochester is hardly a broadband speed leader in New York State, only managing to score in 332nd place. (Image: Ookla)

The performance of the two providers has dragged Rochester’s broadband speed ranking to an embarrassingly low #336 compared with other communities in New York. Suburban towns in downstate New York enjoy more than twice the speed upstate residents get, largely thanks to major upgrades from Verizon (FiOS) and Time Warner Cable (Maxx). But even compared with other upstate communities, Rochester still scores poorly, beaten by small communities like Watertown, Massena, and Waterloo. Suburban Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany also outperform Rochester.

In contrast, in Raleigh, N.C., home to the Power America Institute — another federal manufacturing center — broadband life is better:

  • Raleigh is a Google Fiber city and will receive 1,000/1,000Mbps service for $70 a month, around $20 more than what Time Warner charges for 50/5Mbps with a promotion;
  • Raleigh is a Time Warner Cable Maxx city with free broadband speed upgrades ranging from 15Mbps before/50Mbps after to 50Mbps before/300Mbps after;
  • Raleigh is an AT&T U-verse with GigaPower city with 1,000/1,000Mbps service for $120 70 a month.

This article was updated to correct the pricing of AT&T U-verse with GigaPower in Raleigh, N.C., with thanks to reader Darrin Evans for the corrected information.

Thurman, N.Y. White Space Rural Broadband Wins “Most Innovative Project Award”

rural connectOne of the few “white space” wireless broadband projects deployed in the United States to deliver broadband to rural residents has won the “Most Innovative Project” award, presented during the 2015 New York State Broadband Summit.

The collaborative project between the Town of Thurman, Rainmaker Network Services and Frontier Communications to offer high-speed Internet access to around 65 residents is seen as a successful private-public collaboration to address rural broadband issues in sparsely populated areas.

Frontier Communications provided the trunk line for the service and a $200,000 state grant helped acquire the infrastructure to power the wireless network, which works over unoccupied UHF television channels. The 12 currently subscribing households pay $50 a month for broadband, plus a $292 equipment fee when they sign up. Plans to reach more households have been delayed by a handful of town board members opposed to the project and residents who refuse to grant easements to place equipment on private property. The project had to be re-engineered to workaround some of these difficulties.

PrintDespite the delays, there are estimates another 40-50 households will be able to get the service by the end of summer.

Customers love the service, which is faster than traditional Wireless ISP technology, and comes without speed throttling or data caps.

“By implementing an innovative white space network, Thurman found a way to provide Internet service to a rural area without the need for a large amount of costly infrastructure,” said David Salway, executive director of the New York Broadband Program Office. “Where there was once only dial-up and satellite service, Thurman citizens will have reliable high-speed Internet at affordable rates.”

 http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Carlson Wireless Technologies Rural Connect 3-2015.mp4

Carlson Wireless Technologies explains how next generation white space wireless broadband can be a cost-effective solution to the digital divide. (3:41)

Frontier Runs America’s Worst Website: Dead Last in 2015 Web Experience Ratings

frontier frankFrontier Communications scored dead last in a nationwide survey of websites run by 262 companies — ranked for their usability, helpfulness, and competence.

The “2015 Web Experience Ratings,” conducted by the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm, looked at how customers feel about companies based on experiences visiting their websites. The firm wanted to know whether customers would forgive a company if its website proved less than satisfactory. The answer appears to be no, and phone and cable companies were the most likely to experience the wrath of dissatisfied customers.

“It’s ironic that many of the cable companies that provide Internet service earned such poor ratings,” Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, said.

Most household name cable companies did especially poor in the survey. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and CenturyLink all tied at 252nd place (out of 262 firms). But special hatred was reserved for the website run by Frontier Communications, repeatedly called “incompetent” by consumers, especially after the phone company disabled most of the website’s self-service functions in late April. A well-placed source inside Frontier told Stop the Cap! the company could not manage to get its website ordering functions working properly and simply decided to give up, forcing customers to call instead.

Only 29% of consumers were willing to forgive a telecommunications company for a lousy web experience, according to the findings. Other website disasters were run by: Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Spirit Airlines, Blue Shield of CA, and Haier.

Which websites do consumers love the most? Temkin says USAA (a bank) and Amazon.com have traded the #1 and #2 spots for the last five years.

A Tale of Two Territories: Frontier Plans Upgrades for Newly Ex-Verizon/AT&T Customers While Legacy Areas Suffer

frontier-fast-buffalo-large-2The new CEO of Frontier Communications is promising more fiber to the home service and advanced ADSL2+ and VDSL2 service to dramatically boost Internet speeds… if you happen to live in a Verizon territory Frontier is planning to acquire in Texas, California, or Florida. For Connecticut customers that used to belong to AT&T, Frontier also plans to spend money to further build out AT&T’s U-verse platform to reach more suburban customers not deemed profitable enough to service by AT&T.

For legacy Frontier customers in other states? Frontier plans nothing beyond what it already provides — usually dismally slow DSL.

Speaking to investors during the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Frontier CEO Daniel McCarthy said upgrades offer the company new earnings opportunities, but a closer analysis reveals those benefits will only reach customers in areas where Verizon and AT&T already did most of the work and spent the money required to build advanced network infrastructure.

Verizon has spent millions upgrading customers in Texas to its FiOS service and has a significant fiber to the home presence in California and Florida. Because fiber infrastructure is already largely in place, Frontier will not have to spend huge sums to build a new network. Instead, it will spend incrementally to expand service to nearby service areas.

Mediocre broadband in upstate New York.

Mediocre broadband in upstate New York.

“The FiOS penetration is much higher, specifically in Texas, but we think there’s a lot of opportunity to drive FiOS penetration in Florida and California,” McCarthy said. “We see that as a big opportunity.”

Fierce Telecom notes Frontier won’t have to make a large investment outside of installing new DSLAMs in remote terminals or local Central Offices to deliver higher speeds over copper. Frontier will likely depend on VDSL2 technology on short copper line lengths in suburban areas and ADSL2+ in rural locations.

“I think in this case it might be replacing some electronics, but it’s not a heavy lift from a construction perspective,” McCarthy said. “By putting in a shelf and next-generation capabilities, whether it’s VDSL, ADSL2+, or all the different flavors you can use to serve the different loop lengths in a market you achieve the ability to bring a fresh product set into an area at a fairly low cost.”

While Frontier is willing to invest money in areas that are easy to upgrade, it has proven itself reluctant to consider major upgrades in its legacy service areas where it acquired traditional copper-based landline networks.

“The new states will clearly have new growth opportunities,” McCarthy said. “In Florida there has been a revival of housing in certain areas and subdivision growth in Texas and California.”

In Connecticut, Frontier will build on the acquired AT&T fiber/copper network with a modest expansion of U-verse.

frontier u-verse“We actually see growth opportunity in Connecticut,” McCarthy said. “As we go through and look at the Connecticut property, one of the things that have been a recent development from a technology perspective allows us to serve lower density parts of the state of Connecticut with U-verse product that was limited by densities and loop lengths in the past.”

Although the company often touts millions in upgrade investments, most legacy service areas see only modest service improvements, while the company continues to score very poor in customer satisfaction, especially in states like West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. With Frontier’s ongoing focus on newly acquired service areas, long-standing customers in other states are feeling neglected.

In upstate New York, the prevalence of Frontier Communications’ low speed DSL on the company’s legacy copper network has dragged down overall broadband speed ratings to some of the lowest in the country. Frontier territory Rochester, N.Y., in particular, is now among the worst cities in the northeast for overall broadband speed performance, now rated at just 21.42Mbps. The national average is 36.22Mbps. In comparison, Buffalo scores 24.31Mbps, Cleveland: 22.57Mbps, and NYC 55.56Mbps.

FairPoint CEO Hints the Company is For Sale; Analysts Suspect Frontier Would Be the Logical Buyer

Phillip Dampier May 13, 2015 Audio, Competition, Consumer News, FairPoint, Frontier 2 Comments

fairpoint4Frontier Communications, just hours after passing its first hurdle  — from the Federal Trade Commission — to go ahead with its proposed $10.54 billion acquisition of Verizon’s wireline assets in California, Florida and Texas, is already being discussed as the most likely buyer of FairPoint Communications, which serves former Verizon customers in the northern New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Wall Street is turning up the pressure on FairPoint to sell its money-losing operation to a larger company that could use economy of scale to rescue a business that has already declared bankruptcy once and lost over $136 million last year. FairPoint also recently settled an ongoing dispute with its unionized workforce which makes the company a more likely takeover target.

FairPoint CEO Paul Sunu put out the for-sale sign during last week’s first quarter earnings conference call, admitting to investors FairPoint is considering mergers and acquisitions as a seller or buyer as part of the company’s overall strategy.

Barry Sine, a telecom analyst with Drexel Hamilton, said the company’s 18,000 mile fiber optic network across the three states it serves is the crown jewel of FairPoint and would be a valuable addition to a larger phone company’s portfolio. FairPoint continues to rapidly lose residential customers as they switch to cellular phones, cable company phone service, or broadband-powered Voice over IP services like Ooma. But FairPoint is picking up customers in the commercial sector, including wireless carriers seeking cell tower backhaul connections, hospitals, and other institutions using FairPoint’s fiber network.

Frontier, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., already has substantial assets in the northeast, including AT&T’s former service area in Connecticut. Picking up northern New England would not be much of a challenge for a company already serving 28 states with more than 17,000 employees and could soon pick up millions of new customers in the south.

Vermont Public Radio reports troubled FairPoint Communications, which serves customers in northern New England originally serviced by Verizon, is likely up for sale and could be acquired by a company like Frontier Communications by 2017. (2:54)

You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

frontier frankWith Frontier’s attention currently occupied by its latest Verizon transaction, analysts do not expect to see a deal with FairPoint struck before 2017. That could allow Frontier’s rivals — CenturyLink and Windstream to approach FairPoint first. But neither of those two companies have recently been active acquiring new landline service areas.

Many of FairPoint’s largest shareholders purchased defaulted bonds when FairPoint went bankrupt, and hope to rack up a substantial return when FairPoint is sold to a larger company.

Frontier has a better record of working well with unionized workers than FairPoint, so it was no surprise the unions representing FairPoint workers are not upset with the news the company could be sold.

A spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Vermont told Vermont Public Radio the union is aware of speculation about a future sale of the company and would welcome the opportunity to be a partner with “a more successful business” than FairPoint.

Fla. Utility Says Negotiations With Verizon Make It Clear Verizon Will Exit the Wireline Business Within 10 Years

FPL_logo_PMS2925A Florida utility company has told federal regulators it is certain Verizon has a plan to exit its landline and wired broadband businesses within the next ten years to become an all-wireless service provider.

Florida Power & Light argued in a regulatory filing with the Federal Communications Commission it was clear Verizon had plans to exit its wireline business after the phone company suddenly informed regulated utilities like FP&L it no longer seemed interested in fighting over pole attachment fees and pole ownership and use issues. FP&L suggests that is a radical change of heart for a company that has fought tooth and nail over issues like pole attachment fees for years.

“Verizon has made it clear it intends to be out of the wireline business within the next ten years, conveying this clear intent to regulated utilities in negotiations over joint use issues and explaining that Verizon no longer wants to be a pole owner,” FP&L wrote to federal regulators. “Indeed, the current proposed [$10.54 billion sale of Verizon facilities in Florida, Texas and California] proves this point.”

Verizon has fought repeatedly with the Florida power company over the fees it pays FP&L to attach copper and fiber cables to the power company’s poles. Verizon Florida has repeatedly accused FP&L of charging unjust fees and at one point withheld payments to the utility worth millions.

In February, the FCC dismissed Verizon’s complaint for lack of evidence in the first-ever decision in a pole attachment complaint case involving an incumbent telephone company under a joint use agreement with an electric utility. The power company accused Verizon of lying when it promised concrete benefits to consumers if the FCC reduced joint use pole attachment rates. Suddenly, Verizon no longer seems to be interested in the issue.

verizon“Verizon has not increased its efforts to deploy wireline broadband in the last three years; and there is no evidence that Verizon has used the capital saved on joint use rates for the expansion of wireline broadband,” FP&L officials write. “Indeed, all of the evidence shows that Verizon is abandoning its efforts to build out wireline broadband.”

The power company is not about to just wave goodbye to Verizon. It filed remarks opposing the sale, claiming the benefits will end up in the pockets of executives and shareholders while customers get little or nothing. FP&L wants the FCC to enforce concrete conditions that guarantee Frontier will invest in upgrades to Verizon’s network, especially in non-FiOS service areas.

FP&L added it supports forward technological progress for the benefit of consumers, but the price of that progress should not be the abandonment of wireline customers, contractual obligations, and past promises to the FCC. The utility wrote it is not opposed to Verizon becoming a fully wireless company, but it should only be allowed to do so after it ensures that “its wireline house is in order.”

As things stand today, the utility argues Verizon is looking to abdicate on its obligation to deliver universal service and is no longer interested in maintaining its wired networks. FP&L points to Verizon’s efforts in 2013 to discard damaged wired facilities in favor of Voice Link, Verizon’s wireless landline replacement, in states including New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

“There should be no doubt that Verizon’s strategy to abandon wireline service in favor of wireless service extends beyond New York and Florida and beyond storm damaged and rural areas,” argues FP&L.

The utility points to Verizon’s successful effort to relieve itself of obligations to build a statewide fiber network in New Jersey that was supposed to be complete by 2010.

“Verizon, quite simply, has failed to build out wireline broadband in New Jersey because Verizon has no interest in doing so,” said FP&L. “As the sale of wireline facilities in Florida, Texas, and California […] clearly demonstrates, Verizon obviously is no longer interested in the wireline broadband business and sees its financial future in the wireless industry.”

Frontier’s Website Woes – Company Drops Online Ordering… Because It Can’t Make It Work Right

frontierIf you want to order a product or service online from Frontier Communications, forget it. A source tells Stop the Cap! the company was dropping online e-commerce functions from its Frontier.com website because it could never get online ordering working properly.

Sure enough, the latest iteration of Frontier’s website today blazes with banners requesting customers call the company or use “live chat” to handle any orders for service.

“They still offer the function of self-service — allowing customers to view their bills, set up auto payments, make one time payments, etc., but they are removing the ability for customers to order any service at all,” said our source.

Yesterday's phone company can't manage a website with online ordering.

Yesterday’s phone company can’t manage a website with online ordering.

“This company can’t manage to figure out how to build a website that supports ordering of products, so they are just going to kill that function,” the source added. “Customers will be able to see what products they can get within a specific zip code, but that’s it. If they want to order, they are going to be forced into the already overloaded call center.”

Frontier’s ability to handle its acquisitions of landline customers from Verizon and AT&T have caused problems in the recent past, including customers losing service, getting improperly billed, or experiencing missed service calls. With Verizon customers in Florida, Texas, and California likely to join the Frontier family, our source tells us they will be shocked to see how backwards Frontier’s online presence is compared with Verizon.

“I’m sure our former Verizon and AT&T customers as well as our future Verizon customers will enjoy going back to the Stone Age when they couldn’t do what they needed to do online and would have to pick up the phone to call into a Contact Center,” the source said. “We might as well just have a Frontier Wikipedia page for crying out loud.”

noonlineorder

Just don’t try ordering online.

Frontier has also adopted this novel disclaimer explaining why its advertised DSL speeds often don’t come close to actual speeds in the fine print:

“Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed. Performance metrics based on Frontier lab validation under ideal network environment simulating “best case scenario” without network congestion, other factors cause by consumer behavior, or factors caused by third-party providers’ behaviors. Consumers may not be able to replicate the performance shown in the performance metrics.”

In plain English: “Our advertised DSL speeds are theoretically possible… in a lab… on Moonbase Alpha… as long as you don’t try to use the service… and nobody else does either.”

“Please let your readers know that there are some Frontier employees who want to do right by our customers and want to give them the best service possible, but our expertise and opinions are rarely valued,” the source said.

Frontier Boosts Internet Speeds for its FiOS Customers in Oregon, Washington; But You Have to Ask for Them

Phillip Dampier April 6, 2015 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Frontier No Comments

frontier fiosFrontier Communications customers lucky enough to have access to fiber to the home service will find broadband speeds have been increased to offer identical upload and download rates.

In FiOS areas of Washington and Oregon, symmetrical broadband speeds of 30/30, 50/50, 75/75, 100/100, and 150/150Mbps are now available.

Both the 75 and 150Mbps tiers are new to customers.

Existing customers will not be upgraded to the new speed tiers until they call Frontier and request them.

“Customers have been demanding faster upload speeds for access to the cloud, gaming and streaming applications, and Frontier is committed to fulfilling those needs,” said Vicky Oxley, Frontier vice president and Washington general manager. “This is something our competitors don’t offer.”

The majority of Frontier’s customers receive DSL service at speeds averaging 6Mbps.

Frontier Communications CEO Maggie “6Mbps is Plenty” Wilderotter is Out; Dan McCarthy Takes Over in April

Wilderotter is out.

Wilderotter is out.

Frontier Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter will be replaced in April by the company’s current chief operating officer in a sudden transition of power one Wall Street analyst called “oddly timed.”

Wilderotter has led Frontier Communications for more than a decade, growing the phone company’s footprint through the acquisition of Verizon and AT&T landlines in more than two dozen states. Her business strategy has been to refocus the company away from traditional telephone service towards Internet services, without aggressive infrastructure upgrade spending on a scale undertaken by companies like AT&T and Verizon. The majority of Frontier customers still receive slowband Internet service that does not meet the FCC’s minimum 25Mbps threshold to qualify as broadband.

Under her leadership, Frontier paid careful attention to its dividend, which reliably paid investors for holding Frontier stock. But the company also piled on debt through its landline acquisitions, and is now shopping the junk bond market to finance as much as $7.9 billion of its recently announced $10.5 billion purchase of landline assets in California, Florida and Texas from Verizon.

Frontier has positioned the management change in a press release as a “planned transition,” but the sudden change in the middle of the company’s largest ever landline acquisition has raised some eyebrows on Wall Street. Elevation analyst Stephen Sweeney said the management change adds a “degree of risk” and should concern shareholders.

But at least one shareholder was pleased to learn Wilderotter was going to be replaced.

“‘Oddly timed or not, I’m hard pressed to imagine a more incompetent, self-aggrandizing CEO than the one now leaving,” said RG Perrin. “May I remind [readers] that, once-upon-a-time, Frontier’s forebear, Citizens Utilities, comprised electric, gas, water, and telephone utilities, and, moreover, had a rating from the Value-Line Investment Survey of A++ for financial strength. Now look at this poor excuse of a joint-stock company. This is what thirty or so years of doltish management can achieve, including the ten put in by the departing CEO, Maggie Wilderotter. Thanks for the memory, and goodbye, at long last.”

frontierWilderotter is expected to leave the CEO role by April, replaced by Daniel McCarthy. She will stay with the company as executive chairman of the Board of Directors.

McCarthy has been with Frontier Communications since 1990 and has served as its chief operating officer since 2012. McCarthy led the team that negotiated the recent Verizon landline purchase and has been an advocate of the company’s growth into 28 states with nearly 15 million possible customers.

But Frontier’s success at holding customers and attracting new ones has not been good. As of the end of 2014, Frontier had 3,214,800 residential customers, 304,700 business customers, 2,373,900 broadband customers and 586,600 video customers. Its most loyal customers do not have other choices for broadband service and many live in rural communities with limited cable competition. Many disconnect service as their legacy 1-3 year contract commitments with the company expire. Many others require “winback” or customer retention promotions to stay.

McCarthy

McCarthy is in.

The company’s broadband products are increasingly unattractive in areas where the company faces significant competition from cable operators that are increasing Internet speeds and offering discounted bundled service packages. Frontier still relies on traditional ADSL to reach most of its customers, with gradual expansion into bonded DSL and VDSL service in more populated areas.

The majority of its fiber to the neighborhood and fiber to the home-serviced customers came through acquisitions of Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse service areas. The company has refused to embark on similar upgrades for its legacy customers and has sought instead to compete on price. As a result, more than 80% of Frontier’s legacy residential base, excluding Connecticut, purchases slowband at the basic speed tier, which is 6Mbps in most areas.

While Frontier has committed more than $10 billion to acquire Verizon customers, it spends only a fraction of that on upgrades to its existing network. In the last quarter, Frontier’s capital expenditures were $159 million and the company spent an extra $33 million trying to “flash cut” AT&T customers in Connecticut to its billing platform. The company accepted $133 million in Connect America Fund payments, paid for by ratepayers, to expand or upgrade broadband to just 164,000 households. The company will allocate nearly four times that amount to cover the total integration costs of the latest $10 billion Verizon transaction, which will not bring improved broadband to anyone.

Frontier also announced last month it would not commit to any significant expansion of U-verse outside of the existing AT&T service area it acquired in Connecticut. It previously stated it has no plans to expand its acquired FiOS service areas. This means long-term Frontier customers should not expect any significant improvements in service in the near term, especially as the company’s attention turns to its latest acquisitions, which will add 3.7 million voice connections, 2.2 million broadband connections, and 1.2 million FiOS video connections.

West Virginia Legislature Won’t Consider Any Bill That Could Offend Frontier, GOP Delegate Claims

frontier loveThe Republican leadership of West Virginia’s House of Delegates is alleged to have quietly placed a ban on considering any bill that could potentially offend Frontier Communications, frustrating state lawmakers attempting to introduce broadband improvement and consumer protection measures.

In a press release posted to his Facebook page, Delegate Randy Smith (R-Preston) complained that the House GOP leadership told him his two broadband-related bills waiting for consideration would “go nowhere because it would hurt Frontier.”

“Frontier has its hands in the state Capitol,” Smith said in the release obtained by the Charleston Gazette. “The company knows how to play hardball with the legislative process.”

When asked to name names of those obstructing his broadband-related measures, Smith declined, at least for now.

“It was one individual,” Smith said. “He said leadership wouldn’t support this because they feel like it’s targeting Frontier. If it comes to the point I have to, I’ll give names. I know you’re wanting names.”

Last December, Smith’s frustration with Frontier boiled over.

Smith

Smith

“For too long, West Virginia has lagged behind other states when it comes to accessible computer technology and infrastructure,” Smith said. “We’ve been offered excuses about our state being too mountainous for improving conditions here. But it’s not the state’s rugged terrain holding us back. Although a few areas of the state have a choice of service providers, most are stuck with whatever Frontier decides is enough. And not only do I receive complaints about their service, there are multiple grievances about how they bill their customers. We can, and must, do more to create competition to drive the quality of services up and drive costs down.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a West Virginia issue,” Smith said. “And we need to catch up to other states in the 21st century.”

For the first time in 80 years, Republicans won a majority in the House of Delegates, pledging to transform West Virginia into a “business friendly state.” But even Smith, an assistant majority whip for the new Republican leadership, seemed stunned by the willingness to grant Frontier de facto veto power over telecom-related legislation.

Last week he learned his two broadband bills were essentially dead on arrival, because they would not be supported by Frontier.

  • HB2551, co-sponsored by 10 GOP delegates, would prohibit Internet providers from advertising broadband service as “high-speed Internet” unless the company offered a download speed of 10Mbps or higher. The majority of West Virginia experiences real world speeds far slower than that from Frontier;
  • HB2552, intended to address chronic billing problems by Frontier, would allow Internet customers to take billing disputes to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office, if the state Public Service Commission refuses to review their complaints.
Speed tests on Frontier's "High-Speed Max" Internet service aren't high speed at all.

Speed tests on Frontier’s “High-Speed Max” Internet service aren’t high speed at all.

When Smith’s accusations went public in the pages of the Gazette, Republican leaders scrambled to deny his allegations.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R-Berkeley) told the Gazette House Republicans have no “blanket position” against bills that Frontier opposes.

“There’s no policy by leadership that these bills should move or shouldn’t move based on who’s supporting them or who doesn’t,” Cowles said. “It sounds like Randy is frustrated. He, like many out there, are frustrated by their Internet speeds and service.”

“I was told Friday that there’s no way those bills were going to run,” Smith countered.

Frontier won’t deny its disapproval of Smith’s bills.

“We’re the only provider that chooses to serve much of rural West Virginia, and we see the legislation as having a negative effect on further development of rural broadband services,” said Frontier spokesman Dan Page.

Frontier customers in West Virginia are among the company’s most vocal critics nationwide, complaining about unavailability of DSL, billing errors, poor service, and most common of all: selling service and speed the company cannot consistently deliver. A statewide class action lawsuit against Frontier for failing to provide advertised speeds has attracted hundreds of Frontier customers. The suit maintains Frontier has engaged in “false advertising,” a violation of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

Smith introduced the two broadband measures partly out of his own frustration with the company.

Cowles

Cowles

“I regularly conduct speed tests on my Internet connection and the results are laughable,” Smith told his mostly rural constituents. “I’ve had download speeds of around 0.20Mbps. No wonder they’re called Frontier. Those are the kinds of speeds you’d expect on the American frontier in the 17th century.”

Smith recognized some members of his own party will take Frontier’s side over his.

“Of course, my bills don’t go over well with some members of my own party,” Smith said. “But right is right and wrong is wrong.”

On cue, Cowles rushed to Frontier’s defense.

“Frontier has been trying to spend money to upgrade service, but it hasn’t been easy for those guys,” Cowles said. “We’re trying to expand broadband and improve the speeds everywhere we can. We try to nudge Frontier when we can, push them when we can, while we respect their investment.”

A considerable part of that “investment” came at the cost of U.S. taxpayers. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s inspector general announced an investigation into how Frontier spent a $42 million federal stimulus grant in the state. The inspector general is reviewing thousands of pages of documents turned over by the company. Critics contend Frontier spent the stimulus funds to defray the cost of a statewide fiber network Frontier now owns and controls.

Cowles told the Gazette that despite the media attention on the issue, he remained unsure if Smith’s bills would ever reach the House floor for consideration.

At least three House members — two Republicans and one Democrat — work for Frontier.

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  • tacitus: FYI, I live in Austin, and for at least the last few weeks, I've been getting 60/6 service regularly with Maxx. Probably won't stop me from jumping sh...
  • txpatriot: By the way, if 2000 NN complaints is a "storm", what do you call 64,000 telemarketing complaints?...
  • txpatriot: The FCC used to publish a quarterly summary of complaints, but no longer do. They stopped as of the end of the 4Q2014: https://www.fcc.gov/encyclo...
  • BobInPeoria: Once Comcast completed its purchase of NBCUniversal, this type of situation was inevitable. Comcast(the #1 US cableco) now owns 1(NBC) of the Big...
  • JayS: News reporting on MSNBC? Does MSNBC have Any real 'news' programming? Seems to be All personal opinion and analysis type of programming. Are they tr...
  • Steve: My TWC promotional rate ended on July 24... and my monthly rate... TV and internet... went from $141 to $155. I sent two tweets to @TWC_Help (and got ...

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