The PURA Decision and the Fight

Frontier and Northwest Connect

In the winter of 2015 Frontier and Northwest Connect began discussions following a proposal Frontier was making to many communities in Connecticut at the time.  Frontier was proposing to each community that they would build out a universal fiber optic network if (and we presume only if) the community pledged $15 per month per home for the first five years and some smaller figure for the next ten years, with the conditions after the fifteenth year undisclosed.  As our region has far fewer homes per road mile than more urban regions, Frontier proposed to us the figures of $20 for the first five years and $10 for the next ten. Anyone signing up with Frontier would get an 18 mbps data access connection for that sum.  But all homes had to pay through some agreement to be made with each community accepting the bargain.  In essence, Frontier was proposing a tax to pay for the network’s infrastructure.

In a letter sent to selectmen in our region Frontier gave the following reasons for the arrangement:

  • Frontier’s solution eliminates the potential for a continuing “digital divide.”One of the critical issues of broadband in any community is the gap between those who can afford broadband service and those who cannot.  This problem is addressed by Frontier’s commitment to provide fiber-based service to every Cornwall residence and office at the rate of 18Mbps symmetrical at no additional charge.
  • Fiber optic service can drive economic growth. Advanced communications capabilities can make Cornwall increasingly attractive to young, technically savvy people who wish to engage in “green” commerce and raise families in a vibrant, bucolic setting that does not isolate them from the mainstream of the emerging gigabit digital life.
  • Frontier FTTH service brings new ways of learning and new opportunities for children.In addition, it enables new ways of interacting with each other and the community.
  • Frontier’s fiber system proposal offers a more economic and lower risk alternative from a full service, Tier One carrier than other solutions, particularly those that involve building an entirely new network or rely on as yet to be identified third parties to deliver services.

Thus Frontier simultaneously admitted the need and the reasons for a network upgrade, implied that incumbent networks could not meet the need, and that municipal funding was required even for their network, the least expensive in a way of any prospective network (as they suggest in their last bullet point).

What Happened?

After our first meeting Northwest Connect prepared a comprehensive list of questions about the prospective network and transmitted it to Frontier.  In February of 2016 Frontier answered every question to our satisfaction.  We then wrote a lengthy proposal, some of which circled the question and answer list, to which Frontier promised a response.  We had a meeting with high level Frontier executives in April of 2016, at the end of which Frontier promised to furnish us with a kind of term sheet or memorandum of understanding, a kind of first step towards a contract. Nothing happened.  We had a second meeting in July of 2016 at the end of which a Frontier executive promised a contract within 30 days.  That was the last we heard from them.  Calls and e-mails went unanswered.  We still do not know why they bailed, but they clearly bailed.

Meanwhile Frontier was courting many other communities, mostly the state’s larger ones.  As far as we know, none ever accepted Frontier’s terms or entered into contract negotiations with Frontier. Their current position on their commitment to Fiber to the Home networks in Connecticut is silence.

But that has not stopped Frontier from fighting, vigorously fighting, against the legislative tools needed by municipalities to construct their own networks.  Frontier spearheaded the protestations made against the municipal gain law before our Public Utilities Authority (PURA), which issued a ruling in May of 2018 that limits municipal networks to municipal uses, using language and arguments supplied by Frontier.  They have continued to battle against municipal networks in a subsequent litigation.  They are an oppositional force at current hearings on new legislation proposing clarification and amendments to current laws that will give municipalities a better chance to build out their own networks or parts of a network as we propose here.

The picture here seems clear.  Frontier on the one hand admits what we claim, that we need universal fiber optic networks in our state for all the reasons Frontier advances, but such networks in Connecticut will not be forthcoming from incumbent carriers (we assume because the costs cannot be justified based on projected returns), therefore they either come with some form of public funding or not at all.  On the other hand Frontier works feverously to prevent municipalities from doing just that when no municipality was willing to meet their terms, or Frontier itself abandoned discussions.  The word “hypocrisy” suggests itself.  We cannot let Frontier dictate the future of out state. We must either fight them at every turn, or we must convince them to be a real partner in next generation networks. The latter probably makes too much sense to be acceptable. So we must fight them instead.

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