In April, Frontier Communications filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the state of West Virginia has yet to approve Frontier’s plan, reported the Weirton Daily Times. Now, Democratic lawmakers are pressuring the West Virginia Public Service Commission to hold Frontier to their original agreement of expanding broadband in the state.
The problem with this request is that the same West Virginia Legislature tied the commission’s hands when it cames to regulating internet services in the state. In 2015, a law passed unanimously by the Legislature — Senate Bill 576 — prevents the commission from forcing Frontier to improve broadband services.
In his letter to the Commission, Sen. Randy Swartzmiller wrote, “I want Frontier to be successful, I want to see them continue to provide good-paying jobs with benefits to their employees as well as provide the dependable services that their customers expect and deserve in the 21st century.”
Swartzmiller added, “Also, I want to emphasize the importance of holding them accountable in providing the Northern Panhandle citizens, especially in rural areas, with dependable high-speed broadband internet.”
The Times reported that lawmakers expressed concerns with Frontier’s proposal for a “virtual separation,” which would involve dividing their service areas into two categories. The first category, an “InvestCo,” would involve the additional deployment of fiber for broadband, and the second category, an “ImproveCo,” would include improvements to its copper network.
According to Linda Bouvette, a commission staff attorney, “The commission has no authority to order Frontier to designate West Virginia as an InvestCo state or require it to install fiber to improve its broadband service. In the 2015 general session, the Legislature specifically excluded internet services from the commission’s jurisdiction.”