Lane says PSC can hold Frontier’s “feet to the fire” in new agreement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Public Service Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Lane says she’s confident an agreement regulators have reached with Frontier Communications about the company’s future in West Virginia will finally provide the help Frontier’s customers have been seeking.

The PSC recently entered orders in the Frontier Bankruptcy case and the Quality of Service Focused Management Audit the PSC began a few years ago. Lane said the highlight of those orders is requiring Frontier to maintain and upgrade its systems.

Charlotte Lane

“We can monitor what Frontier is doing to make sure they are living up to their promises and to make sure they are putting money back into the system,” Lane said during an recent appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Frontier has committed to spending a minimum of $200 million on capital improvements in West Virginia by the end of 2023 and committed to deploying fiber to at least 150,000 locations in the state by the end of 2027.

Lane said if Frontier falls short the commission can strike back.

“If they have not done what they have said that they will do then we have the opportunity and obligation to pull them back in here and require certain steps,” she said.

The PSC began the service audit in 2018. It covered the status of the company’s copper network — including staffing and capital investment — as well as company policies and metrics determining the quality of service. The PSC received nearly 2,000 complaints from Frontier customers in 2019, largely issues with landline phone and internet service.

“We have finally nailed those issues down and we’ve ordered solutions to those problems,” Lane said.

Some still have doubts

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito asked the Federal Communications Commission last month to reject the bids Frontier has submitted for millions of dollars in broadband expansion in the Mountain State.

“I’m asking for a rejection and I’m asking that they rebid the locations that Frontier got,” Capito said.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

Capito basing her objection in part on the company’s service record.

The Federal Communications Commission initially awarded $245 million of the $362 million available for projects in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. Frontier was the low bidder on 70% of the funds available for West Virginia.

But the Communications Workers of America, which represents Frontier workers in West Virginia, has come out in favor of Frontier’s bids.

CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney said Frontier is the only company that can make a substantial difference when it comes to broadband in the Mountain State.

“With the largest share of the geography and the largest number of employees readily available in the state to build this network, they’re going to be in the best position to actually complete it,” Mooney told MetroNews.

The FCC has yet to make a final decision on the broadband bids.

Ed Mooney (photo/CWA)

Lane maintains the recent orders entered by the PSC include safeguards for the state and its residents. She said Frontier will have to file quarterly reports.

“They’ll tell us what they are doing, how they are spending their money, how much money they are taking in from West Virginia customers and how much money they are getting in federal grant money,” Lane said.

She said the first significant view of progress will come at the end of September.

“If they have not done what they said they would do, we can bring them back in and require certain steps like setting up an escrow fund, requiring a surety or a performance bond or letter of credit which will make them to do what they’ve agreed to do,” Lane said.

Frontier has more than 300,000 customers in the Mountain State and employs approximately 1,200 workers in West Virginia.

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