West Virginia Tries To Improve Broadband Competition, Incumbent ISPs Immediately Sue

from the this-is-why-we-can't-have-nice-things dept

So by now you’ve probably noticed that the broadband industry is somewhat, well, broken. Unaccountable giant telecom incumbents, with a stranglehold on both federal and state lawmakers, work tirelessly alongside well-compensated lawmakers and covertly paid policy vessels to protect the status quo (read: limited competition, high prices, poor customer service). Often that involves quite literally writing and buying state laws that make it impossible for anybody to do much of anything about this dance of dysfunction.

And when it comes to highlighting the end result of this corruption, there’s no better state than West Virginia. Whereas bigger incumbents in more populated states can often hide their stranglehold over a broken market under layers upon layers of exquisitely crafted bullshit, many West Virginia lawmakers and regional incumbent Frontier Communications lack the savvy and competence to mask what they’re truly up to.

As a result, the state has been awash in controversy over its telecom policies for years now. Local Charleston Gazette reporter Eric Eyre has done yeoman’s work chronicling West Virginia’s immense broadband dysfunction, from the State’s use of broadband stimulus subsidies on unused, overpowered routers and overpaid, redundant consultants, to state leaders’ attempts to bury reports highlighting how a cozy relationship with Frontier has led to what can only be explained as systemic, statewide fraud on the taxpayer dime.

Obviously letting Frontier dictate state telecom policy has resulted in the state being one of the least-connected states in the nation. Facing growing calls to actually do something about it, West Virginia finally recently buckled to pressure and passed House Bill 3093, recently signed into law by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. The bill makes a number of changes to try and improve regional competition, including streamlining pole attachment reform, and encouraging local broadband community co-ops to shore up coverage in low ROI areas.

We already discussed how Frontier recently fired a long-standing employee for supporting the bill. Said employee’s other job was as West Virginia Senate President, an absurd conflict of interest nobody in the state appears to have given much thought to. But Frontier has subsequently decided that it makes sense to sue the state of West Virginia for the new law, taking specific aim at the segment reforming utility pole fiber attachment rules:

“Frontier Communications has filed a lawsuit to prevent the enforcement of an article of House Bill 3093, known as the broadband bill, arguing that it conflicts with federal law and increases the chances of an interruption or outage for customers.

House Bill 3093?s Article 4 allows third parties, including Frontier?s competitors, to trespass upon, handle, move, interfere with, and potentially damage Frontier?s facilities attached to utility poles in West Virginia ? thereby, among other things, destroying in whole or in part Frontier?s investment and other property and its ability to use its facilities to provide service to its customers, without prior notice to Frontier and an opportunity to protect its property,? the lawsuit says.

We’ve noted how incumbent ISPs have sued to thwart pole attachment reform elsewhere, most notably in places like Louisville and Nashville where Google Fiber is trying to compete with incumbents. Existing pole rules often require each individual ISP move its own gear, resulting in up to a year of bureaucratic delays for new market entrants. Delays incumbent ISPs have historically exploited to intentionally slow competitor arrival to market.

One touch make ready” reform rules, in contrast, propose using a single, licensed and insured subcontractor able to move any company’s gear provided they give a notable heads up and pay for any potential damages. And while incumbent ISPs like Frontier and many cable providers (who also sued the state for its effort to speed up competition) like to give the impression these subcontractors are random incompetent yahoos who’ll cut lines and wreak havoc, they’re often the same experienced, licensed subscontractors used for years by many of these companies for their own pole work.

It’s believed this boring-sounding utility pole regulatory reform can reduce existing pole attachment times from six months to a year, down to a month or two. But because it would speed up the entrance of would-be competitors, incumbent ISPs have fought the reform tooth and nail. You see, incumbent ISPs talk a big game about their disdain for “burdensome regulation,” but when said regulation protects their regional duopolies, they’re the first in line to applaud. That is when they’re not busy writing and buying protectionist state laws and regulations preventing local communities from making these decisions for themselves.

Frontier’s decision to spend time and money with lawsuits comes as rumors begin to swirl of potential bankruptcy at the company. The company has been bleeding customers after it bundled an expensive acquisition of Verizon’s unwanted networks in Florida, Texas and California, a deal that initially pleased investors with promised growth, but saddled the company with billions in debt, further preventing it from upgrading its network at any scale. Frontier’s apparent solution to this conundrum? Like any myopic, pampered legacy company, it’s to double down on the bad ideas that brought it to this moment in the first place.

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Comments on “West Virginia Tries To Improve Broadband Competition, Incumbent ISPs Immediately Sue”

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PlagueSD (profile) says:

ISP’s can’t even control the contractors THEY employ. I was down for 3 days (no TV, no internet) When I called, they said there was an outage reported in my area. That’s pretty funny as I already checked with my neighbors in my complex and I’m the only one affected.

Finally got a tech show up — took me 3 days to convince them to send someone out. Turns out, a CONTRACTOR disconnected the wrong connection when shutting off another unit. First words out of the tech’s mouth when he comes back from the equipment box on the property, “Damn contractors.” We both laughed and he had me up and running with a CLEANER signal in about 20 mins.

So yeah. The contractors they currently employ cause outages…

ECA (profile) says:

a PERSON IN India..

Suggested to me that his nation was Soo corrupt that it cost 5 times, the cost to get something built..
I mentioned thats not to bad, as we Tax it, License it, regulate it, Process it, and stamp it, until its so over priced you cant afford it..

He didnt believe me..
FOR SOME ODD REASON, other nations dont think the USA is corrupt.

AND with the laws on corruption and others…WHY cant we take these people to COURT?? BECAUSE by the time its over, we would be 20 years older, they would get a SLAP on the wrist equal to .01% of profits…and we would be IN DEBT so deep..

WHAT corruption?

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Even if you magically overnight fix all the regulatory problems, WV (and a number of other US states) face a bigger problem – it’s called population density.


The state is 29th or 30th in population density overall, but has a significant portion of the state with under 10 people per square mile which is very, very low in terms of trying to get broadband to people.

It shows when you look at thing like this:


99% can get 3 meg, 93% get 10 meg, but only 44% can get 25 meg.

Bringing in new competition isn’t going to change the numbers much, because newcomers are going to show up and cherry pick, wiring the highest density and ignoring the very low density land that makes up most of the state.

Did you see Google Fiber lining up to wire up rural Wyoming? Nope. They went to where there is 5000 and more people per square mile. It’s the only way they had a hope of making money, and they still have pretty much tapped out.

If the state is in the right, then deal with the lawsuit like big boys and get it settled. it does look like the state would have more success if they stepped up and removed any ambiguity and took full control of the process as per the federal law. At that point, the ISPs would no longer be able to hold them hostage in any way.

My guess is 10 years from now, WV will still be near last in overall connectivity. You can’t fix empty space and excessive distances to cable.

z says:

Re: Re: Re:

there is no “anti competition regulations” it is a farse by republicans to deregulate everything which caused this mess in the first place. (hint we had multiple 56k and dsl provider before the fcc removed the bundling requirement and there was massive investment. force line sharing, and the majority of the issues will fade away.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

force line sharing, and the majority of the issues will fade away.

As someody who used to run an ISP that ran on Qwest’s lines, I can tell you that you’re mistaken.

Here’s why:

User is paying to use Qwest’s lines, plus an ISP. The ISP can be Qwest, or it can be somebody else.

Can you see where this is going? Qwest turns a profit either way. So how does it get a customer to choose its ISP? Easy: don’t charge for the internet service for the first year, only the line. Qwest still turns a profit, it undercuts its competitor’s price, and by the time it jacks up the rate (after the first year) its customer’s already been there for a year and is unlikely to switch to another ISP that charges the same amount and uses the same line.

What can a "competing" ISP do to compete with that? The only way it can match Qwest’s price is to operate at a loss for the first year. For most companies, that’s not a viable business strategy.

Forcing line-sharing isn’t enough. In order to force a competitive market, you’d either have to make the line owners allow third-party ISPs to use their lines at cost, or split up all the broadband providers and prohibit the line owners from owning an ISP.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are means of providing broadband to less densely populated areas that not necessarily go through fiber (ie: wireless alternatives). You can also go the municipal broadband route where taxpayers would bear the burden of extending coverage to these more remote areas.

Here they more or less made fixed line and mobile coverage ‘universal’ by making it obligatory for any interested telco to pick regions with very high ROI paired with very low ROI ones. We are still dealing with broadband expansion woes though since it’s a different beast legislatively speaking (you know, just like in the US before Title II making them common carriers). But there are attempts to fix it.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Almost every country faces the same problem. Companies want to wire up where there is enough density to pay the bills, and unless you have enough of those places, they never seem to have the money to do the rest to any decent level – unless absolutely mandated by government to do so.

Muni broadband sounds nice, but it’s a taxpayer burden forever, you don’t just have to set it up, you have to keep it working. I think municipal governments would be best paying to (a) put fiber or similar into every home in there area, brought back to “huts” where multiple companies could operate, and (b) pay to bring in decent internet service from afar to the center of town, where they can sell connections to the companies who wish to be part of (a). Then GET OUT OF THE WAY and let competition actually exist, and only be responsible to fix broken lines and nothing else. Lease the lines out to the ISPs who want to use it for a decent price, don’t overcharge on peering to your decent internet connection, and let the ISPs actually operate things.

Having only one ISP (the muni) isn’t in the end any better than having a lazy monopoly. Encouraging competition is really key in all of this (and they can avoid many of the “pole” problems by trench installing fiber in the municipal land strip next to roads, which private companies would have a harder time doing.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think it is. Muni broadband because an obligation, no matter what the actual costs or liability that comes from it. How much fun do you think it would be if your muni provider was named in an RIAA lawsuit? Would the taxpayers be on the hook for those costs too?

A model of re-sold infrastructure would appear to be a much better game plan, and one that would encourage all sorts of competition. Remember, if they multi-strand it for each house, then you can have more than one service (ISP, cable, whatever the future brings). That is sure to build healthy competition.

AC720 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

WVs problems are far beyond population density. The terrain is really harsh, with mountains everywhere. This means roads and powerless have a really tough time. Even cellular coverage is spotty because the terrain often blocks signals.

Another issue is employment: there are very few jobs in WV which means wages are low, if you can even find a job. A lot of smaller towns -which is most of the state- just manage to survive. They don’t have the disposable income to pay for wildly expensive broadband even if they could get it.

Arachne (profile) says:


I have an office in the second largest state in W.Va.– at least it used to be, haven’t checked in a while. I have to have some sort of Broadband– two options Frontier and Comcast. Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

When Frontier took over from Verizon here we went a month without service. They blamed Verizon. There’s been various outages over the years since. Recently I dropped our land lines and added a wireless phone because they were incapable of fixing a really annoying sound on the land line that made the phones unusable. I hate to think what people in the rural areas have to put up with.

hiroshimarrow (profile) says:

You're the government - just do it!

Why not use one of those nifty civil forfeiture things to claim the poles on the basis that it aided in piracy, then allow access to the poles as if it were a public property? Pole access problem fixed for their lawsuit – it is no longer the ISP’s property, so they can’t claim it. When they sue for recovery of their property, tell they can’t because of the ongoing investigation of piracy.
Maybe use the process for imminent domain over the poles, and allow access that way?
Why isn’t the government doing government type things here?

AC720 (profile) says:

My ex and her mom lived in a tiny WV town and had Frontier DSL. Well. They hadn’t paid the bill in a year but it still worked, somehow. 2 megabits of wonderful service. Getting them to pay the bill was out of the question and not my problem anyway.

Frontier eventually locked them out by doing a DNS redirect or something. But I was able to work around that by telling their router to use Google DNS. Yeah. Frontier was that incompetent. Stupid easy to maintain service.

My ex eventually used the internet I fixed and the laptop I let her use to find a new guy to replace me. So I really should have let their rotten Frontier DSL stay broken. Shrug

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