CHARLESTON W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – Delegate David Linville, Chairman of the House Committee on Technological and Infrastructure, urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reconsider Frontier’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) application, stating that the company’s past indiscretions speak poorly against its intentions to connect West Virginia.
Earlier this month, the FCC announced that it had allocated $9.2 billion through the Phase 1 auction of the RDOF, helping to close the digital divide in 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and expand broadband to more than 10 million rural Americans.
As previously reported, the RDOF is a $20.4 billion fund attempting to close the digital divide by funding high-speed broadband network deployment in underserved rural areas within the United States. An “underserved” community is an area that does not meet the federal definition of braodband, 25/3 Mbps.
The FCC set aside $16 billion for Phase 1 of the reverse auction, of which $9.2 billion was allocated. The remaining $6.8 billion will roll over into the future Phase II auction.
The FCC stated that auction results indicated that 180 bidders, including “cable operators, electric cooperatives, incumbent telephone companies, satellite companies, and fixed wireless providers,” “won auction funding to deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses.
According to Linville’s letter addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, West Virginia was allocated $362,066,660. 20 of RDOF funds in support to expand broadband to 119, 267 unserved homes and businesses, representing 218,000 West Virginians.
Nine providers in the state were awarded support in the reverse auction, which “sought to preserve the public interest while competitively stretching the available funding to the greatest degree possible.”
Frontier, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, was allocated nearly $250 million, nearly 70 percent of the state’s total funding.
“Our deep concerns are rooted in Frontier’s failures that the state of West Virginia has suffered for many years,” Linville wrote.
Aside from the company’s bankruptcy, Linville stated other failures the company has had. Last year, the state of West Virginia was forced to appropriate nearly $5 million to repay the United States Department of Commerce due to Frontier’s mismanagement of prior federal funding through the BDOF program.
This cost to the citizens of West Virginia was due to findings in the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General Report No. 14-0840.
This same report from the Inspector General included an email exchange between a Frontier Employee and a Frontier consultant, in which the company acknowledged that they miscalculated the amount of fiber they actually placed.
“Looks like our previous estimate of 12 miles of coil for the entire project is way off the mark,” the email reads. “…if indeed the average coil footage per mile of fiber placed is 400 feet, then the total miles in coils is 47.5 miles. This is four times greater than we told [State employee] earlier…”
The email concludes with the Frontier consultant telling the employee not to tell the [State employee] “unless she asks again.”
In 2015, Frontier entered into a settlement with the state of West Virginia, which sought to address complaints wherein Frontier’s customers had subscribed and paid for an “up-to” speed of six megabits per second when they were actually receiving less than one-third of that amount. The company required an additional $150 million investment in network infrastructure to improve speeds.
In West Virginia, Frontier has also failed to meet deadlines imposed by FCC with respect to support from the Connect America Fund Phase II.
“Recent failures to put these funds to use lead us to a logical question: Can we reasonably expect them to do so now? Given this history, the documented disagreements between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Fronter, the lack of forthright dealings, and the substantial importance of broadband internet access to our constituents, we ask that the FCC scrutinize Frontier’s long-form application in unparalleled detail, developing a thorough record befitting the gravity of the task at hand and the public funds at stake,” Linville wrote.
Frontier qualified for the FCC’s short-form application, but the company’s long-form application must also be approved before they receive funding.
Linville and the 24 other members of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee that endorsed the letter to Chairman Pai, ask that the FCC will heed their concerns while carrying out their duties in reviewing Frontier’s long-form applications.
“What we want is for West Virginia to be connected,” Linville said. “We want them to have a reliable broadband internet option, to be able to participate in the twenty-first-century economy, to be able to educate children, to be able to do homework remotely, visit doctors, receive telemedicine and do all the various thing that you are able to do with reliable broadband internet. We cannot afford to see this opportunity squandered. This is the largest opportunity the state has had in well more than a decade.”
With nine other providers in the state eligible to bid in the FCC’s auction, Linville says there are nine other providers willing and ready to connect West Virginia.
If Frontier’s long-form application is denied by the FCC based on the reasons stated in the committee’s letter, Linville hopes the funds “would go to the provider that is able to stretch the public dollars as far as possible and reliably get the job done.”
“This isn’t about the like or dislike for any company or any personalities or any of that. This is about the people of West Virginia and about getting them connected. None of us have any preference for any company that can get it done. We just want to get it done.”
If Frontier’s application is accepted and they are given $250 million in funds to deploy broadband network, Linville hopes the FCC will make sure the company completes the project on time.
“We just wanted to make sure they are aware of what is going on. This is not within our control; it is a federal program through a federal agency. What we are trying to do is express our concern based on reports. As the FCC’s process moves forward that they take these concerns into account.”
The FCC released that Form 683, the long-form application, is due Jan 29, 2021.