Want To Understand Why U.S. Broadband Sucks? Look At Frontier Communications In Wisconsin, West Virginia

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

So for years I've noted if you really want to understand why U.S. broadband is so crappy, you should take a long, close look at Frontier Communications in states like West Virginia. For decades the ISP has provided slow and expensive service, routinely failed to upgrade or repair its network, and generally personified the typical bumbling, apathetic, regional monopoly. And its punishment, year after year, has generally been a parade of regulatory favors, tax breaks, and millions in subsidies. At no point do "telecom policy leaders" or politicians ever try to do much differently.

Case in point: Frontier, fresh off of an ugly bankruptcy, numerous AG and FTC lawsuits over repair delays, and repeated subsidy scandals, is positioning itself to nab yet more subsidies from the state of Wisconsin. Frontier is asking the state of for $35 million in additional grants, despite the fact Wisconsin was just one of several states whose AGs recently sued the company for being generally terrible. Folks familiar with the company argue it shouldn't be seeing a single, additional dime in taxpayer resources given fifteen years of scandal:

"I hope the state will seriously consider the track record of companies to understand which ones have a long record of meeting the needs of residents and businesses,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, a Minnesota-based think tank supporting communities’ telecommunications efforts, said in an interview with The Badger Project.

"Frankly, Frontier’s record suggests it should not receive a single additional dollar from any government,” he added. “Local companies, communities, and cooperatives have proven to be much better at turning public subsidies into needed networks."

Keep in mind Frontier has been accused of taking state and federal subsidies on several occasions, misleadingly billing the government extra, then basically just shrugging when asked for the money back. To date nobody has done much about any of it. Also keep in mind Frontier routinely lobbies for (and often ghost writes) state laws banning towns and cities from building their own broadband networks. They're also directly responsible for the gutting of state and federal regulatory and consumer protection authority. Facing little real competition and feckless oversight in most states, nothing much changes. By design.

Historically, state politicians and regulators ignore these kinds of problems, because, it should be made clear, they're corrupt. Regional monopolies find it immensely easy to throw a few bucks at state leaders in exchange for just mindless rubber stamping of whatever goal they're interested in (merger approvals, new subsidies, the gutting of consumer protections, tax breaks, zero accountability). That this strategy continually results in terrible, substandard, and expensive service never seems to enter into the picture. It's just rinse, wash, repeat in a long line of states.

The Wisconsin State Public Service Commission is expected to grant or deny Frontier's request by the end of the month. The company is also first in line to grab new federal broadband funding from the Biden FCC. It will be curious to see if just a parade of unprecedented scandal reduces Frontier's ability to have millions in additional taxpayer money thrown at it in the slightest. My guess is it doesn't. At all.

There are two, indisputable reasons U.S. broadband generally sucks: regional monopolization and the corruption that protects it. But when you see news articles, regulators, many think tankers, or politicians talking about broadband, notice how many are capable of even clearly acknowledging that fact, much less genuinely interested in actually doing anything about it.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, dsl, fcc, subsidies, telecom, upgrades, west virginia, wisconsin
Companies: frontier


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  • identicon
    Ninja, 22 Oct 2021 @ 10:01am

    I'm here wondering.. Wouldn't the huge amounts of subsidies granted by various levels of the US govt to telcos have the same result of having public telecom (as in State owned) companies (or company, nationally speaking) and investing that money into bringing connectivity to unprofitable places while still racking in profit from profitable areas where the private sector couldn't care less about offering good service? I mean, companies can invest where they want while still having the public telco to ensure people will have options against egregious behavior and unprofitable areas would still be served. Instead we have a dysfunctional situation where tax money is still funneled towards incentives to serve all Americans but even those who are served are having tons of problems be with lack of maintenance or arbitrary caps and privacy violations. Call me communist but I don't see how this would be worse than handing tons of cash to private entities that couldn't care less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bees Knees (profile), 22 Oct 2021 @ 10:34am

    Don't get me started...

    We signed up in 1998 for frontier for $112/month for 1.6 mb/s including a phone line as it was our only choice. In early 2021, we were at....1.6mb/s. They bumped us up to 2.0 after we had some problems and believe it or not, it was noticeably faster although still slow as molasses.

    Once I saw a frontier technician in the field and they said they recommended a new piece of equipment that was $10k that would give 99 houses in my area 25 mb/s service and would pay for itself in two years. Managers said no. The tech said, "Now you see why we are in bankruptcy?

    I called them up an pleaded for relief and they offered $10/month off for a year. They would not under any conditions drop the phone and halve the cost. Verizon had just started up 4G LTE internet for less than half the cost for between 6-35 mb/s (depends on the time). But our neighbors who haven't yet changed are still at 1.6 in 2021. So no, frontier has zero interest in the consumer and service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2021 @ 11:11am

    the old story, yet again, of MONEY TALKS!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Oct 2021 @ 11:16am

    Someone needs to make up some visual aids showing how the service stayed the same or got worse after every single dollar from the government.
    Then force the politician into a corner to admit that it appears tax payer dollars were wasted or that he's in the pocket of the companies.

    Simple drawings that even the Trump faithful can understand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 22 Oct 2021 @ 12:17pm

    But when you see news articles, regulators, many think tankers, or politicians talking about broadband, notice how many are capable of even clearly acknowledging that fact, much less genuinely interested in actually doing anything about it.

    None, because Big Telecom pays for all of them to shut up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Oct 2021 @ 1:29pm

    The only group that counts

    Companies like Frontier get away with behavior like theirs because while they may treat their customers like crap, exploiting them to squeeze as much money as possible out while providing the least they can the one group they don't scrimp on is the politicians.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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