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Frontier’s Inner Secrets Revealed: ‘We Underinvested for Years’

Frontier Communications has revealed to investors what many probably realized long ago — the independent phone company chronically underinvested in network upgrades and repairs for years, giving customers an excuse to switch providers.

Remarkably, the phone company did not just underperform for its remaining voice and DSL internet customers. In a sprawling confidential “Presentation to Unsecured Bondholders” report produced by Frontier’s top executives, the company admits it was even unable to achieve significant growth in its fiber territories, where Frontier-acquired high-speed FiOS and U-verse fiber networks held out a promise to deliver urgently needed revenue.

Frontier’s bondholders were told the company’s ongoing losses and poor overall performance were unsustainable, despite years of executive “happy talk” about Frontier’s various rescue and upgrade plans. In sobering language, Frontier admitted its capital structure and efforts to deleverage the company’s massive debts were likely to cut the company off from future borrowing opportunities and deter future investment.

The presentation found multiple points of weakness in Frontier’s current business plan:

Voice landline service remains in perpetual decline. Like other companies, Frontier’s residential landline customers left first, but now business customers are also increasingly disconnecting traditional phone service.

About 51% of Frontier’s revenue comes from its residential customers. That number has been declining about 5% annually, year over year as customers leave. Frontier’s internet products are now crucial to the company’s ability to stay in business. Less than 30% of Frontier’s revenue comes from selling home phone lines. For Frontier to remain viable, the company must attract and keep internet customers. For the last several years, it has failed to do either.

Frontier customers are disconnecting the company’s low-speed DSL service in growing numbers, usually leaving for its biggest residential competitor: Charter Spectrum. Frontier remains saddled with a massive and rapidly deteriorating copper wire network. The company disclosed that 79% of its footprint is still served with copper-based DSL. Only 21% of Frontier’s service area is served by fiber optics, after more than a decade of promised upgrades. Frontier’s own numbers prove that where the company still relies on selling DSL, it is losing ground fast. Only its fiber service areas stand a chance. Just consider these numbers:

  • Out of 11 million homes is Frontier’s DSL service area, only 1.5 million customers subscribe. That’s a market share of just 13 percent, and that number declines every quarter.
  • Where Frontier customers can sign up for fiber to the home service, 1.2 million customers have done so, delivering Frontier a respectable 40 percent market share.

Frontier has been promising DSL speed upgrades for over a decade, but the company’s own numbers show a consistent failure to deliver speeds that can meet the FCC’s definition of “broadband,” currently 25 Mbps.

At least 30% of Frontier DSL customers receive between 0-12 Mbps download speed. Another 35% receive between 13-24 Mbps. Only 6% of Frontier customers get the “fast” DSL capable of exceeding 24 Mbps that is touted repeatedly by Frontier executives on quarterly conference calls.

Despite the obvious case for fiber to the home service, Frontier systematically “under-invested in fiber upgrades” in copper service areas at the same time consumers were upgrading broadband to acquire more download speed. Frontier’s report discloses that nearly 40% of consumers in its service area subscribe to internet plans offering 100 Mbps or faster service. Another 40% subscribe to plans offering 25-100 Mbps. In copper service areas, Frontier is speed-competitive in just 6% of its footprint. That leaves most speed-craving customers with only one path to faster speed: switching to another provider, typically the local cable company.

So why would a company like Frontier not immediately hit the upgrade button and start a massive copper retirement-fiber upgrade plan to keep the company in the black? In short, Frontier has survived chronic underinvestment because of a lack of broadband competition. Nearly two million Frontier customers have only one choice for internet access: Frontier. For another 11.3 million, there is only one other choice – a cable company that many detest. Frontier has enjoyed its broadband monopoly/duopoly for at least two decades. So long as its customers have fewer options, Frontier is under less pressure to invest in upgrades.

For years Frontier’s stock was primarily known for its generous dividend payouts to shareholders — money that could have been spent on network upgrades. But what hurt Frontier even more was an aggressive merger and acquisition strategy that acquired castoff landline customers from Verizon and AT&T in several states. In its most recent multi-billion dollar acquisition of Verizon customers in California, Texas, and Florida, Frontier did not achieve the desired financial results after alienating customers with persistent service and billing problems. The longer term legacy of this acquisition is a huge amount of unpaid debt.

Frontier’s notorious customer service problems are now legendary. Frontier’s new CEO Bernie Han promises customer service improvements are among his top four priorities. Improving the morale of employees that have been forced to disappoint customers on an ongoing basis is also a priority.

Frontier executives are proposing to fix the company by deleveraging the company’s debt and restructuring it, freeing up capital that can be spent on long overdue network upgrades. Executives claim the first priority will be to scrap more of Frontier’s copper wire network in favor of fiber upgrades. That would be measurable progress for Frontier, which has traditionally relied on acquiring fiber networks from other companies.

But the company will also continue to benefit from a chronic lack of competition and Wall Street’s inherent dislike of large capital spending projects. The proposal does not come close to advocating the scrapping of all of Frontier’s copper service in favor of fiber. In fact, the rebooted Frontier would only incrementally spend $1.4 billion on fiber upgrades until 2024, $1.9 billion in all over the next decade. That would bring fiber to only three million additional Frontier customers, those the company is confident would bring the highest revenue returns. Another eight million customers would continue to rely on Frontier’s existing DSL or potentially be sold off to another company. Frontier seems more attracted to the prospect of introducing or upgrading service to approximately one million unserved or underserved rural customers where it can leverage broadband subsidy funding from the U.S. government. To quote from the presentation: Frontier plans to “invest in areas that are most appropriate and profitable and limit or cease investments in areas that are not.”

Another chronic problem for Frontier’s current business is its cable TV product, sold to fiber customers.

“High content/acquisition costs have made adding new customers to the Company’s video product no longer a profitable exercise,” the company presentation admits. If the company cannot raise prices on its video packages or successfully renegotiate expensive video contracts to a lower price, customers can expect a slimmed down video package, likely dispensing with regional sports networks and other high cost channels. Frontier may even eventually scrap its video packages altogether.

To successfully achieve its goals, Frontier is likely to put itself into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization no later than April 14, 2020. The company’s earlier plans may have been impacted by the current economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, so the exact date of a bankruptcy declaration is not yet known.

CableLabs Introduces DOCSIS 4.0 — Up to 10/6 Gbps Over Cable Broadband

Phillip Dampier March 26, 2020 Broadband Speed, Consumer News 1 Comment

CableLabs unveiled the final DOCSIS 4.0 specification today, dramatically improving upload speeds and offering the potential of much faster internet service from cable operators in the next few years.

DOCSIS 4.0 will support downstream speeds as fast as 10,000 Mbps and upload speed as fast as 6,000 Mbps, finally bringing faster upstream speed to cable company-provided internet. The new standard raises maximum speeds by opening up “extended spectrum” on the coaxial cable coming into your home. By dedicating additional frequencies for data services, cable companies can raise both speed and capacity.

Consumers have been asking for faster upload speeds to support streaming live video, cloud backup services, and a growing number of in-home devices sharing a single internet connection. For years, cable providers have only been able to provide a small fraction of upstream speed in comparison to download speed. That distinction will largely be erased as DOCSIS 4.0 gets deployed over the next few years. Providers are likely to raise upload speeds on existing speed tiers and offer consumers symmetrical download and upload speed for gigabit connections. The increased speed will also likely make cable broadband more attractive to business customers.

The new standard will also decrease network latency, crucial for some online applications. It will also feature more robust security and higher reliability by identifying potential network problems before they become apparent to customers.

Consumers may see DOCSIS 4.0 modems and service available within the next two years.

NBCUniversal Offers Its National News Networks and Local Newscasts To All Video Subscribers for Free

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2020 Consumer News, Online Video No Comments

As a result of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, NBCUniversal is now offering free access to MSNBC, NBC News Now, and CNBC on cable lineups and to authenticated video subscribers of various cable, satellite, and telco TV services. Customers need not have current subscriptions to any or all of these services to get access. If streaming online, enter the account credentials of your current provider when prompted.

NBC and Telemundo-owned TV stations are also now live streaming local newscasts and coronavirus-related press conferences on each station’s website and related app(s). No subscriptions are required to view this content.

Charter Spectrum Offers 60 Days of Free Broadband to Educators

Phillip Dampier March 25, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News No Comments

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Charter Communications has expanded the scope of its 60-day free internet/Wi-Fi offer to now also include educators that currently lack Spectrum broadband service. The offer also remains available to all homes with school-age children who are not currently Spectrum internet customers.

The expanded offer is now available to all K-12 grade teachers and university and college professors who live within Spectrum’s footprint.

To take advantage, contact Spectrum at 1-844-488-8395. A self-install kit will be either mailed or made available at a nearby cable store shortly after your order is placed. Customers can expect 100 or 200 Mbps download speed, depending on the service area. After 60 days, normal rates apply.

 

Verizon Is Giving Customers an Extra 15 GB of Data and Introducing New, Low-Cost Plans

Phillip Dampier March 23, 2020 Consumer News, Data Caps, Verizon, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Verizon does not want their customers to worry about their wireless and home internet bills during the COVID-19 crisis, so they are introducing some new affordable plans for low-income households, waiving late and overlimit fees, and giving wireless customers an extra 15 GB on their data allowance for the next month.

Among today’s announcements:

  • Company waiving all overlimit and late fees on customers that either exceed their data allowance or cannot pay their wireless bill.
  • Verizon’s Lifeline customers will receive two months of waived internet and voice service charges and may qualify for new discounted internet plans.
  • Wireless consumer and small business customers are getting an extra 15 GB of high-speed wireless and/or hotspot data from March 25 through April 30. There is no action needed as the data will automatically be added to your plan.

“We understand the hardships that many of our customers are facing, and we’re doing our part to ensure they have broadband internet connectivity during this unprecedented time,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO Verizon Consumer Group. “With so many Americans working and learning remotely from home, having access to reliable and affordable internet is more important than ever before.”

Effective April 3, Verizon is introducing a new broadband discount program for new FiOS Internet customers that qualify through the Lifeline program. Customers may select any Verizon FiOS speed among Verizon’s Mix & Match plans and receive a $20 discount per month. New customers can get FiOS Home Internet 200/200 Mbps service for $19.99/mo, 400/400 Mbps service for $39.99/mo, or gigabit service for $59.99/mo, with Disney+ included for one year and the first two months of the router rental charge waived (there is no router rental charge for gigabit plan customers).

The extra 15 GB of data won’t be much help for Verizon’s unlimited customers, but it also applies to hotspot service, which is usually limited.

“While more than half of our wireless customer base is on an unlimited data plan, including all of our FiOS and DSL broadband internet customers, we recognize there are many who may need additional connectivity during these trying times,” Ronan added. “We’re here for you and we’ll make sure you have what you need to stay connected.”

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