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West Virginia Public Service Commission OKs Frontier Bankruptcy, But Issues Remain

File Photo Frontier Communications’ headquarters building is shown in Charleston. The West Virginia Public Service Commission has accepted the company’s bankruptcy reorganization plan.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia became the 12th state to accept the bankruptcy reorganization plan from Frontier Communications, even though lawmakers still have concerns whether Frontier can live up to its promises to expand broadband service across the state.

The state Public Service Commission released two orders Friday: one accepting a proposed settlement agreement between Frontier, PSC attorneys, the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division and the Communication Workers of America union and the other accepting the results from a long-anticipated focused management audit of the company.

The two orders impose strict conditions on Frontier to improve its copper-line phone and internet services, as well as expand its fiber broadband internet service. Under the joint stipulation agreement approved by the PSC, Frontier agreed to spend $200 million on capital improvements by Dec. 31, 2023, and to deploy fiber high-speed internet to at least 150,000 locations in the state by Dec. 31, 2027.

“The commission is pleased with the resolution of these two cases,” said Charlotte Lane, chairwoman of the PSC, in a statement Friday. “These Orders allow Frontier to proceed with its bankruptcy reorganization, emerge a stronger corporate structure and make much needed investments in West Virginia’s internet infrastructure.”

According to the proposed stipulation agreement, Frontier’s operations in West Virginia would be known as “InvestCo.” As part of the designation, Frontier agreed to voluntarily deploy gigabit broadband services to no less than 150,000 locations. Frontier is required to spend no less than $50 million annually.

A request for comment for this story was not immediately made available by Frontier.

The locations will allow Frontier to deploy fiber to homes and businesses when people subscribe, also called FTTP. Frontier set a goal of FTTP broadband deployment to 75,000 locations three years after it emerges from bankruptcy, which is expected in early 2021.

In the PSC’s order, if Frontier does not hold up its part of the stipulation agreement, the PSC could implement surety requirements that would include monetary penalties should Frontier not meets its obligations. The PSC will review Frontier’s progress on Sept. 30 and every three months from then on.

Frontier has been under scrutiny from state and federal lawmakers after its winning bid in phase I of the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction in 2020. Frontier was one of nine companies awarded winning rights to expand high-speed broadband internet service to 119,267 unserved Census tracts in West Virginia, a $362.1 million investment in the state over the next 10 years. Frontier was the largest recipient of RDOF dollars, winning $247.6 million.

Seven groups have written letters to the FCC concerned about Frontier’s RDOF Phase I winning bid, including members of the West Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates Technology and Infrastructure Committee. These groups are joined in their concerns by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“I’ve made it clear that if, during the review of Frontier’s RDOF long-form application for the West Virginia locations there are any questions or concerns about their ability to deliver on the commitment made in their short form application, that the FCC should reject their long-form application,” Capito said in a statement last week. “The stakes are simply too high to provide nearly $250 million to a company that does not have the capability to deliver on the commitments made to the FCC.”

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