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.