Minnesota regulators to investigate Frontier’s investment plans

Last week, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MNPUC) voted 5-0 to proceed with an inquiry into Frontier’s investment plans in Minnesota, including the meaning of the company’s proposed “virtual separation” and its impact on service quality. During Frontier’s bankruptcy approval process, CWA urged the MNPUC to focus on how the company has decided to apportion its network and workforce investments across its geographic footprint as part of its “virtual separation” exercise, and what impact this will have on Minnesota customers. CWA believed that ensuring full transparency into the company’s network and workforce investment plans in Minnesota is crucial to ensuring that Frontier devotes the resources and maintains the workforce levels necessary to ensure quality service over the long-term.

“Everyday I see the impact of Frontier’s lack of investment in Minnesota among my members. In 2019, I had 100 Frontier members in my Local. That number has been cut by a third to 66 just in the last two years,” said CWA Local 7970 President Mark Doffing at the MNPUC public hearing. “This is despite the ongoing pandemic and the increasing reliance of our customers on the services Frontier provides. Areas that used to be covered by six to eight technicians are now being handled by two. The workload this has placed on my membership is overwhelming and unsustainable.”

Frontier committed to the Virtual Separation analysis as part of an agreement with a group of hedge funds and private investors who became its largest shareholders following Frontier’s emergence from bankruptcy. Since that agreement was disclosed as part of the bankruptcy process, Frontier has sought to re-define the term and ignore its original meaning by claiming that Virtual Separation is only an “accounting exercise.” In its investor update on December 15th, 2020, Frontier announced a new “Modernization Program” which outlined fiber investment focused overwhelmingly on a specific list of states, fulfilling the goals of the “Virtual Separation” program under a new name. Minnesota was notably absent from that list of states. Frontier has since announced a new strategic initiative for expanded fiber deployment but has yet to identify the states that will be targeted to receive this investment.

“This is not how a company that is planning a long-term future of improved service for its customers operates and why the Commission’s investigation into these issues is critical both for my members and for Frontier customers across the state,” said Doffing.

Links:

Minn. PUC Advances Probe on Frontier Investment Plans (Communications Daily, Aug. 27, 2021)

Frontier Quarterly Investor Update (Frontier, Mar. 8, 2021)

Frontier (FYBR) Investor Day Presentation (Frontier, Aug. 5, 2021)