Last week, Frontier Communications told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that there are 17,000 census blocks in which it is now offering 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. This means well over 400,000 Americans now live in areas no longer eligible for the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion program to expand rural broadband. The first phase will auction off up to $16 billion in subsidies later this year.
In the filing, the company also identified census blocks where it believes other providers will deploy broadband access through state-funded programs, making those locations ineligible for the federal funds as well.
Frontier is Flailing
Frontier recently declared bankruptcy, following a history of increasingly unsustainable acquisitions. It also just missed its milestone for the Connect America Fund, which required the company to deploy obsolete 10/1 Mbps service to 80 percent of the funded locations by the end of 2019 in return for more than $1.5 billion in subsidies. Some 774,000 locations should have at least 10/1 Mbps service by the end of 2020 from a company Consumer Reports repeatedly finds to be one of the worst Internet Service Providers in the nation.
Frontier is so bad that it went through repeated outages of 911 in Wisconsin, dealt with state investigation after state investigation (including but in no way limited to Minnesota, Ohio, Nevada, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota again, West Virginia, and California [pdf]), and cannot even handle basic redactions (revealing nearly 1 million poorly maintained network connections in West Virginia alone). We made a fact sheet to track some of Frontier's problems.
Our own Michelle Andrews, GIS and Data Visualization Researcher, produced a map of where these census blocks are in which Frontier says it has deployed 25/3 Mbps service since June 2019.
We are extremely concerned that many of these locations may not actually be getting the claimed 25/3 Mbps. If Frontier is exaggerating its coverage, now is the time to investigate before those households miss out on a massive opportunity to get high-quality Internet service from a company that, unlike Frontier, has basic competence.
In working with some local folks, Michelle also put together more in-depth maps of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana so we can try to spot check locations. If you know Frontier subscribers in those states, please spread the word and ask them to send the results of this speed test to firstname.lastname@example.org with their address.
Situation Normal: Bewildering
This would not be the first time in the past week that a major U.S. telecom monopoly incorrectly reported coverage in thousands of census blocks to the FCC. The FCC seems to have no intention of developing any consequences for companies that make repeated false claims in these data collections.
One of the oddest things about the Frontier filing is that while Frontier was preparing to declare bankruptcy in recent months, it also had the time to research state broadband programs and suggest locations to the FCC in which it thought others may be deploying broadband in areas not covered by Frontier. That company is an utter mystery.
Contact email@example.com to share your Frontier speed test results and to find out how you can help.