Frontier says bankruptcy won’t change California service quality. CPUC must decide if that’s good news

Frontier Communications wants the California Public Utilities Commission to blindly bless its bankruptcy exit plan. Yesterday, it filed statements from two executives who argued that the financial restructuring and resulting change in ownership won’t have any effect on the more than two million Californians in its footprint.

“Service quality will at least be maintained”, Frontier’s head of lobbying and lawyering, Mark Nielsen said. That’s because “the restructuring will not alter Frontier’s day-to-day opertions”.

Yes, “opertions”. At least he’s being honest, albeit accidentally, about Frontier’s talent for quality control.

Nielsen claimed that “the economic benefits of the restructuring will flow to ratepayers through the operation of market forces”. In some areas of California, such as the densely populated cities in Ventura and Los Angeles County where it acquired fiber to the premise systems from Verizon in 2016, that may be true. But in much of its rural territory, Frontier operates as a monopoly wireline broadband provider. It’s in those communities where the CPUC required Frontier to upgrade broadband service, and where the results of its efforts – whatever those might be – haven’t been made public.

Rural broadband deployments are discussed in yesterday’s filing, but the numbers were blacked out in the publicly distributed version. Nielsen claimed that Frontier met its obligation to upgrade broadband service for hundreds of thousands of Californian homes through 2019, except for a specific requirement to reach 75,000 homes with low speed, 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload service. Frontier will “make up for the temporary shortfall”, Nielsen said, adding that the company is “on track” otherwise.

Carlin Adrianopoli, a consultant brought onboard during the bankruptcy proceeding as a strategic planning executive, gave an overview of Frontier’s restructuring plan. The attached copy of the plan filed with the bankruptcy court has all the excruciating details.

Requests for rubber stamp CPUC approvals are a typical opening gambit when utilities propose mergers or bankruptcy settlements. I don’t recall that PG&E did that – it was painfully obvious to everyone that something had to change and that the CPUC would play a key role. Frontier’s shortcomings are equally painful and equally obvious to its customers. They deserve the same attention and consideration that the CPUC extended to PG&E’s customers.

I make typographical errors too. If I ever need CPUC approval to get out of bankruptcy, I expect my literary sins will weigh heavily against me.