CPUC and Frontier must put broadband upgrade cards on the table

3 August 2018 by Steve Blum
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When the California Public Utilities Commission allowed Frontier Communications to buy Verizon’s wireline systems in California, it imposed a long list of conditions, including commitments made as part of settlements reached with organisations that objected to the deal. Some of those obligations required Frontier to upgrade broadband service to more than 800,000 homes.

One of those organisations is the California Emerging Technology Fund, which is embroiled in a dispute with Frontier over nearly every aspect of that settlement. CETF claimed in a complaint filed with the CPUC that Frontier “does not intend to honor” its commitments, including, among other things, the upgrade schedule it offered in 2016.

In its formal response to CETF’s allegations, Frontier never actually says that it kept to that timetable. All it says is that “Frontier sent a letter to the Communication Division dated March 8, 2018 on its commitments that includes a confidential attachment reflecting completed locations through December 31, 2017”. It sent a letter, but doesn’t say what’s in the letter or even claim that the letter documents fulfillment of its obligations.

It did include a table, shown above, which gives an overview of what it believes its obligations to be. It’s not a revelation. It simply repeats what’s in a similar table included in its 2016 settlement with consumer groups, plus a much smaller promise of 7,000 upgraded homes in northeastern California made to CETF, plus the households that the Federal Communications Commission is paying Frontier $228 million to upgrade via its Connect America Fund program.

One striking omission is how Frontier plans to meet its promises. In the course of winning the CPUC’s approval for the Verizon deal, Frontier promised specifically to upgrade wireline service, and claimed it “focused solely on wireline telecommunications”. Since then, it has publicly backtracked on that pledge.

Frontier’s obligations are to the people who live in the communities where it intends to upgrade broadband service. Both the CPUC and Frontier have a duty to let them know where, when and – particularly – how those upgrades will be made.