Frontier punts on California broadband subsidy obligation

Frontier is bragging about how well it’s doing with the broadband infrastructure and service upgrades it promised to do, in exchange for $2 billion in federal subsidies. But not in California.

When it accepted the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) money in 2015, Frontier agreed to deliver a minimal level of service – 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds – to 58,000 homes and businesses in California in exchange for a total of $228 million, paid out over six years in $38 million increments.

Those upgrades were supposed to be completed over the following five years, with 40% of the claimed territory upgraded by the end of next week – 31 December 2017. It put out a press release this week, patting itself on the back for meeting its obligations in 17 states. But California wasn’t on the list.

An email to Frontier’s public relations department asking for an update on its progress in California, or at least an explanation of why it won’t make its required deadline, went unanswered. California was one of three states where Frontier acquired systems from Verizon in 2015, and cut over in 2016. The other two states – Texas and Florida – were on the mission accomplished list, so the reason can’t be some kind of cosmic issue with the Verizon acquisition.

Since there are ten other states where Frontier also accepted CAF money but isn’t claiming to have met the 40% build out requirement – states which were not involved in the Verizon transaction – it’s more plausible that the failure is systemic in nature.

Frontier – and AT&T, which accepted CAF subsidies in California but also hasn’t claimed success – have a week to pull things together and fulfil the obligations they assumed. And then the FCC and the California Public Utilities Commission will have to verify those claims. Which might still happen. But if they can’t even reach enough of the low hanging fruit to get to 40% of federally subsidised Californian homes and businesses in two years, it will be hard to believe any promises that they’ll be willing or able to the harder work needed to upgrade the remaining 60% in the next three.