Frontier called to testify on internet service before House of Delegates committee

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 7:07 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia House of Delegates is calling for the state’s largest internet service provider, Frontier Communications, to testify under oath about ongoing broadband problems.

The unanimous vote came during Wednesday’s Technology and Infrastructure Committee meeting after discussion about how to expand reliable service across the state. The motion requires Frontier to provide the committee with documents related to broadband expansion, financial, support programs, regulated activities, pending litigation and settlements. It also set a hearing for Frontier leaders to answer lawmakers’ questions on March 10.

“We’ve got to hold them accountable, but on top of that, we’ve also got to figure out what we need to do as a legislature to make sure we find the behavior that we wish to see happen,” said committee chairman Del. Daniel Linville (R-Cabell). The Legislature is working to create broadband expansion programs, with more than $150 million in funding over the next three years, that will allow internet service providers to reach more customers in rural areas.

“We can structure support programs, not necessarily just for Frontier, but we want to bring in competition,” Linville said. “We want to make sure providers are going to take advantage of the programs that we would set up. Ultimately, we want to make sure West Virginians are served, served well and they have competition and availability and quality.”

The goal is to help people like Susan Stover, who lives in a part of Putnam County where Frontier has refused to provide service. Stover has struggled to work from home during the pandemic, relying on the spotty signal from a WiFi hotspot that is taped to her window.

“We just want internet,” Stover said. “We have so many children that live out through here. They were having to go into town and sit like at McDonald’s, sit at the school for hours to do their school work, instead like the other kids who were in the comfort of their home.”

Stover is one of 224 people who have filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office against Frontier during the past year. She was shocked when her complaint ended with a letter from Frontier that said they have no intention to provide her with internet service, despite servicing her neighbors out on the main road.

“We’re not even in the 20th century out here, and that’s not fair,” Stover said. “I wish they would tell Frontier, ‘you do it or you get out of the state. You do what you are supposed to do or you pick up and leave.’ Because you are not helping our citizens, you are hindering anything of bringing West Virginia to the forefront for jobs, for infrastructure. It’s ridiculous.”

In 2015, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reached a $160 million settlement with Frontier following an investigation into the company’s unreliable internet service and speeds. As part of that settlement, Frontier promised to upgrade its infrastructure. Years later, including a PSC audit, Stover still does not have internet service.

Linville is also looking for answers on Frontier’s commitment to increasing its service reliability after reaching a deal with the Public Service Commission as it exits Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He said the best option would be to have additional service providers in the state to create competition.

“One way or another, we will get the answers we need,” Linville said. “We will hold everyone accountable and we will seek to expand broadband in the state of West Virginia.”

WSAZ reached out to Frontier to see if the company will voluntarily provide the requested documents and send leaders to testify before the House committee. Vice President of Communications Javier Mendoza issued the following statement:

“Frontier welcomes the opportunity to share with West Virginians its commitment to expand Fiber-to-the-Premises, gig-capable broadband services to 150,000 locations in the state-both rural and urban. We are confident that West Virginia consumers will see the value of this commitment. Indeed, no other provider in West Virginia has announced plans to make the same level of impact and investment in the expansion of broadband capabilities in the state that Frontier has. Frontier, and its 1,400 employees in the state, including our CWA union partners, continue to work hard every day to deliver services and build out our network.

“We look forward to the Company’s emergence from Chapter 11 restructuring. We are focused on a fresh start that will allow the Company to make investments in its network and operations to expand fiber and enhance services for West Virginia consumers. Frontier continues to have an open dialogue with legislators, the West Virginia Public Service Commission and Consumer Advocates Division, and other state officials including those charged with economic development about its plans for the state. "

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