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Bloomberg: Frontier Preparing to Sell Its Florida, Texas, and California Service Areas

Phillip Dampier February 5, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier 2 Comments

Frontier Communications, mired in $18 billion in debt, is preparing to sell a package of landline assets in California, Texas, and Florida the company acquired just two years ago in a $10.5 billion deal.

A Bloomberg News report indicated the sale is part of an effort to boost available funds and repair a damaged business plan that has left the company with a massive debt load and an ongoing departure of customers unhappy with Frontier’s products and services.

Frontier has posted falling revenue for the last five consecutive quarters and the company has spent much of 2017 attempting to borrow more money and refinance the debt it already has, accumulated in part from its acquisitions of sold-off wireline assets owned by AT&T (Connecticut) and Verizon (multiple states).

Frontier has a poor record of successfully transferring customers to the company’s billing and backend systems, which has often caused service disruptions and billing errors. Bad publicity followed Frontier in Texas, Florida and California where the company acquired 3.7 million new voice lines, 2.2 million broadband customers, and 1.2 million FiOS accounts.

What makes Frontier’s properties in those three states valuable is the widespread availability of fiber-to-the-home service. Potential buyers, including private equity firms and other non-traditional bidders, see a future in providing valuable fiber backhaul connectivity to forthcoming 5G wireless networks, which require fiber connections deep into neighborhoods to connect small cell technology with the provider’s network.

Bloomberg reports the assets are likely to be split up and sold in parts, instead of a single package. That could mean Frontier will sell off each state independently or the split could be based on technology, with fiber assets sold separately from Frontier’s acquired copper wire networks in the three states. Frontier may have trouble finding buyers for legacy copper service areas that have never been upgraded with fiber optic service. Frontier is also increasingly unlikely to upgrade those areas itself.

Service Problems Plague Frontier Customers in West Virginia as Company Seeks Voluntary Layoffs

Phillip Dampier January 3, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier, Rural Broadband, Video 1 Comment

An undisclosed number of Frontier Communications customers in West Virginia were without phone service during the Christmas-New Year’s Day holidays because of copper thefts and slow repair crews that did not begin repairs for up to two weeks after the outages were reported.

Hardest hit was Mingo County, where multiple copper wire thefts caused significant service outages starting Dec. 20 in Matewan, Delbarton, and Varney. Many customers were without phone service over the Christmas holiday, and some are still without service two weeks later. One of them is Arlene Gartin at the two-month old Mudders restaurant, which depends on pickup and delivery orders.

“This has devastated us,” Gartin told WSAZ-TV. “Seventy-five percent of our business was our delivery and without the calls I’m hanging on by threads.”

In Iaeger in McDowell County, residents on Coonbranch Mountain report their Frontier phone and internet services have been out of service for two weeks. Carl Shrader told WVVA-TV that service went out on Dec. 23 and remained so throughout Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Mingo County, W.V., on the Kentucky border.

“We had a windstorm come through, and up here where the church is, at the top of my driveway, it blew the power line and the telephone line down,” said Shrader. “If you get a fire around your house, and the phone lines is down, how can you notify the fire department? If you have a burglar coming in on you, how can you phone and say, ‘9-1-1, I need help! There’s a burglar here.’ You can’t!”

Cell service in this part of West Virginia is spotty, making landline service very important for many West Virginia residents who live and work around the state’s notorious mountainous terrain.

Customers affected by service outages report long hold times calling Frontier and very little information or updates about outages. Many residents report Frontier’s outages are frequent and often take a long time to fix. Some have been told Frontier’s repair crews are short-staffed and busy elsewhere.

That comes as a surprise to officials at the Communications Workers of America who confirmed Frontier announced a “voluntary” reduction in force program on Dec. 20, seeking employees willing to accept a buyout offer. If enough workers do not take Frontier up on their offer, more than 50 Bluefield-based employees and about 30 in Ashburn, Va., are at risk of being laid off.

WSAZ-TV in Huntington, W.V. reports a significant number of residents in Mingo County have been without Frontier telephone and internet service because of copper wire thefts for the last two weeks. (1:49)

WVVA-TV in Bluefield/Beckley, W.V. reports some residents waited two weeks for Frontier repair crews to show up after a windstorm. (1:49)

Verizon Abandoning Copper Network in Multiple Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Cities

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon No Comments

Verizon Communications will decommission its existing copper wire facilities in multiple markets in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia starting in 2018.

In a series of requests filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon is asking to compel customers to switch service to Verizon’s FiOS optical fiber network or find another provider. While Verizon’s fiber network has a better reliability record than Verizon’s deteriorating copper facilities, some residential customers may be compelled to pay more for FiOS service than they used to pay for landline and DSL service over Verizon’s copper network. Their phone service may also no longer work in the event of a power failure.

“We will offer the service at a special rate for customers who migrate from copper to fiber as a result of the retirement of our copper facilities,” Verizon said, but the company did not guarantee that rate would not reset to regular priced FiOS service down the road.

Businesses may also have to invest in technology upgrades to switch to fiber optic service when Verizon pulls the plug on copper-delivered services.

The wire centers (central offices) where copper decommissioning is planned are disclosed in these company documents (click on links below to see if you are affected):

DELAWARE

MARYLAND

MASSACHUSETTS

NEW JERSEY

NEW YORK

PENNSYLVANIA

RHODE ISLAND

VIRGINIA

 

Even Frontier Hints Without Major Broadband Upgrades, It’s Dead

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier 9 Comments

Frontier Communications spent $2 billion in 2014 to purchase AT&T’s Connecticut wireline business, believing it could make a fortune selling internet and cable television service to wealthy Nutmeg State residents over a network AT&T upgraded to fiber-to-the-neighborhood service several years earlier.

But thanks to a combination of management incompetence, cord-cutting, and Frontier’s competitors, the phone company’s dreams have turned bad in Connecticut, where the company lost hundreds of millions in the last three years along with at least 22% of its customers in the state. As a result, Frontier has turned a business that made AT&T $1.3 billion four years ago into one that earned Frontier $901.9 million last year.

Hartford Business notes Frontier’s biggest challenge is holding on to customers once they disconnect their landline service. In Connecticut between 2014 and 2016, Frontier lost 154,000 landline customers in the state, leaving just under 522,000 remaining landline customers. That is way down from the 675,000 customers AT&T had just before it sold the service area to Frontier. AT&T struggled with a similar problem, having more than one million landline customers in 2011, according to numbers from Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURA). What made AT&T different is its investment in U-verse — AT&T’s answer to the challenge of lost landline customers. AT&T invested in a new fiber to the neighborhood network to boost broadband speeds and sell television service, giving departing landline customers a reason to continue doing business with AT&T.

For millions of Frontier Communications customers in its “legacy service areas” — owned and operated by Frontier for years, if not decades, those upgrades have been slow to come, if they have come at all. As a result, dropping Frontier service in favor of a wireless or cable company is not a difficult decision for many customers, and cable operators report significant growth where their only competition is DSL service from Verizon or Frontier.

Frontier’s own executives admit broadband upgrades are essential if Frontier is to survive the challenges of landline disconnects.

Customers are increasingly taking a pass on landline service.

“It’s a surprise to no one that we have voiceline declines in Connecticut,” Mark Nielsen, Frontier’s general counsel and executive vice president told the business newspaper. “The challenge is to build our internet and video business so as to offset the declines in voice. We are very committed to the Connecticut operation, we see great potential in it.”

That commitment is coming in the form of internet speed upgrades. Frontier’s primary competitors in the state are cable operators Comcast, Charter, and Cox, some offering speeds as high as a gigabit. Frontier is trying to compete by introducing speeds at or greater than 100Mbps, but so far only in a few parts of the state.

According to Nielsen, Frontier’s profitability is less important to investors than maintaining positive cash flow, which means assuring more money is coming into the operation than going out.

“Cash is what’s available to make investments to return capital to shareholders,” Nielsen said.

But that represents a conflict for Frontier, because many shareholders are attracted to the stock’s long history of returning money to shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. If Frontier has to invest more of its capital on upgrades and network upkeep, that can result in a dividend cut, which usually causes the share price to decline, sometimes dramatically. If Frontier can manage to invest less and cut costs, that frees up more money that can be paid to investors.

For the past several years, Frontier’s business plan has been to avoid spending large sums on network upgrades. But the company was willing to spend handsomely to acquire more customers from a three-state deal with Verizon that cost $10.5 billion. Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon landline customers in Florida, California, and Texas made sense for many shareholders because it would dramatically increase the number of customers served by Frontier, and that in turn would boost revenue and cash flow, from which Frontier’s dividend to shareholders would be paid. Frontier acquired a fiber rich, FiOS service area in all three states, which automatically meant the company would not need to undertake its own significant and costly upgrades.

But Frontier did have to transfer its newest customers from Verizon’s systems to those operated by Frontier. If a company spends enough time and money to protect customer data during such “flash cutovers,” they are usually successful. A company that attempts it without careful planning causes service to be disrupted, sometimes for weeks, which is exactly what happened after Frontier switched customers in the three states to its systems. Customers have never forgotten, and have left every quarter since the deal was first announced.

Financial analysts see where this is headed.

“Each and every quarter their revenues decline, and each and every quarter their customer totals decline,” David Burks, a financial analyst at Hilliard Lyons, told the newspaper. He called Frontier a company that is struggling. He added Frontier needs to stem revenue erosion. He downgraded Frontier’s stock last month after the company reported a second-quarter net loss of $662 million. He could not ignore what he called “disturbing trends,” such as an 11.5 percent year-over-year decline in total customers across Frontier’s entire operation.

 

To win new customers Frontier must improve its network with upgrades that will cost the company billions — spending that is certain to affect Frontier’s shareholder dividend. Even if it does spend money to upgrade, some analysts are wondering whether it is too late.

“The time to play catch up has passed, given the time to market advantage that cable has, and we expect continued pressures from cable as DOCSIS 3.1 steps up the speed advantage that cable already enjoys,” wrote Jeffries in a a report written about by FierceTelecom. “In our view, it is far too late for the ILECs to ramp spend to compete, particularly given high leverage and the significant cost required to expeditiously play catch up.”

7.6 Million Floridians Without Internet/Phone Service After Hurricane Irma

Phillip Dampier September 12, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

At least 7,597,945 Floridians are without cable, broadband and phone service after Hurricane Irma left large sections of Florida without power or wired telecommunications service.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, service providers have self-reported multiple large outages including 911 service, cell towers, cable service, and radio and television services. In many cases, the outages are directly tied to power interruptions, and many expect service will resume soon after Florida utilities get electricity service back up and running.

Telephone

Providers report 390 central switching offices are non functioning across Florida at this time. These offices handle landline calls and wired broadband from AT&T and Frontier Communications, among other telephone companies. Where physical damage from wind or water has occurred, it could take weeks or months before those offices are fully restored, but temporary provisions for restoring basic phone service are likely to be in place within days.

There are also significant 911 outages across Florida:

No 911 Service, Calls Going Unanswered: Big Cypress Indian Reservation, Collier County EOC, Ft. Myers Police Department, Glades County Sheriff, Glades County Sheriff Back Up, Hardee County Back Up, Hendry County Sheriff, Highlands County Sheriff, Lee County Emergency Dispatch Center EOC, Naples PD, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department, Homestead Air Force, Marathon SO, and Ocean Reef.

911 Service With No Automatic Caller Location Information (ALI): Hardee County Sheriff and Lee County Sheriff

Re-routed with ALI: Atlantic Beach PD, Belle Glade PD, Indian River SO, Manalapan PD, Miami Beach PD, Neptune Beach PD, and St. Augustine PD

Re-routed without ALI: 4 Clewiston Police Department, Desoto County Sheriff, Lee County Backup, and Sanibel Police Department

Potential Outage: The Broward County South Region 911 Center lost power as of 9/10/17 at 2:28PM EDT. We do not know if 911 calls are being rerouted.

Wireless Service

Overall, 27.4% of cell sites in the disaster area of Florida are out of service. The worst outages are in:

  • Collier County: 160 of 212 cell sites are down. (75.5%)
  • Hendry County: 31 out of 46 cell sites are down. (67.4%)
  • Highlands County: 42 out of 80 cell sites are down. (52.5%)
  • Lee County: 186 out of 343 cell sites are down. (54.2%)
  • Miami-Dade County: 739 out of 1,435 cell sites down. (51.5%)
  • Monroe County: 87 out of 108 cell sites down. (80.6%)

Broadcasting

There are two television stations out of service in Florida: WVFW and WZVN. There are 26 radio stations off the air: W227CP, W300CL, W222AW, WROK, WAOA-FM, WHKR, WLZR, WIOD, WOLZ, WINZ, WBTT, WCKT, WRUM, WQOL, WZZR, WSWN, WOTW, WMFQ, WXUS, WYCG, WEAT, WTIR, WMYR, WCNZ, and W294AN.

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