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House committee asks Frontier for broadband progress documents

Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography MEETING — House Technology and Infrastructure Committee Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, chairs a meeting Wednesday.

CHARLESTON — A committee in the House of Delegates charged with improving West Virginia’s broadband infrastructure is seeking documents from Frontier Communications on its progress.

The House Technology and Infrastructure Committee voted Wednesday to submit a formal request for information and documents to Frontier. The committee also issued an invitation for representatives of Frontier to attend a committee meeting scheduled for March 10.

The committee is seeking documents related to Frontier’s maintenance, compliance, and performance; and its progress on the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II broadband expansion projects. Frontier had accepted FCC Connect America Fund dollars in 2015 to expand broadband to 89,190 locations in West Virginia by the end of 2020.

The committee is also seeking information on Frontier’s $160 million settlement with the state Attorney General’s Office over internet speed complaints, the company’s storm response plans and whether the cost of those plans is factored into the recent settlement and agreement with the state Public Service Commission, average revenue per user in West Virginia and nationwide, customer service practices, Frontier’s settlements with other states to secure approval for its bankruptcy reorganization plans, and other requests.

“The information and testimony the committee has requested is vital to our work to ensure that West Virginia is best positioned to maximize future investment and that regulated activities from telephone utilities are adequately performed moving forward,” said committee Chairman Daniel Linville, R-Cabell.

Linville wrote a letter to Frontier CEO Bernie Hahn at the end of January seeking additional details on Frontier’s ability to meet its obligations in the FCC’S Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I Auction. Frontier was the largest recipient of RDOF dollars in the West Virginia at $247.6 million.

Linville also sought additional details on Frontier’s agreement with the Public Service Commission, and the company’s post-bankruptcy broadband expansion plans. In a PSC order issued Jan. 15, Frontier agreed to spend $200 million — or a minimum of $50 million annually — on capital improvements by 2023 and deploy fiber high-speed internet to at least 150,000 locations in the state by the end of 2027.

In the motion approved by the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday, if Frontier does not respond to the request for information or the invitation to brief the committee, Linville would be empowered to subpoena Frontier to compel the information and officials to appear before the committee.

“We hope that Frontier will comply with our request, but if not, the committee has unanimously approved a motion directing me to exercise the authority to command appearance and document production,” Linville said.

Multiple state and federal lawmakers have written letters to the FCC concerned about whether Frontier can meet its obligations in the RDOF auction. The company plans to exit bankruptcy in the next several months.

A request for comment from Frontier was not returned.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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