The Brave Old Frontier

11:50 AM Telco is building broadband where Verizon wouldn't. Will that be enough to satisfy cranky consumers?

July 28, 2011

3 Min Read
The Brave Old Frontier

11:50 AM -- Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) is going where Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) refused to go, and is ready to take some lumps in the process.

If you go on consumer ISP rating sites such as DSLReports or, you can read a litany of complaints from consumers about connections that have to be restarted, download speeds so slow that YouTube videos are unwatchable, and customer service problems.

But there are also a fair number of folks surprised to be getting speeds of 3 Mbits/s in rural areas where the Internet coverage has been spotty in the past, and even more surprised that Frontier technicians show up when expected and install modems rather than shipping them in the mail.

So how is it Frontier is able to do DSL where Verizon couldn't? I asked Michael Golob, senior VP of engineering and technology for Frontier, how it was possible and his answer came down to this: Frontier is willing to try.

In addition to some already well-publicized access infrastructure buildouts, that effort includes installing 8,000 miles of fiber optics equipped with ROADMs to handle traffic moving from Verizon's backbone and onto Frontier's, and using Actelis Networks Inc. copper-over-Ethernet gear to boost backbone speeds where fiber wasn't installed.

Frontier took heat for this as well, from consumers who said their service suffered during the network transition. But Frontier is getting kudos from many customers who've seen an improvement -- especially those who either couldn't get broadband or were getting what they considered inferior service from a cable monopoly. (There is cable coverage in 80 percent of the 14-state rural territory Frontier took over from Verizon, Golob says.)

Frontier recently turned up a rural Illinois community, installing a DSLAM with about 75 percent of its card slots prepared, and saw that capacity used up in the first week of service because sales were so high, Golob says.

As a company that bills itself as North America's largest rural telco, Frontier is constantly looking for ways to increase its broadband penetration, according to Golob, including taking advantage of opportunities to build fiber out to cell towers or to businesses, and then leveraging those builds to serve consumers. Even storm repairs represent an opportunity for network upgrades.

The other thing Frontier is doing is putting a truly local face on service in these under-served areas, something Verizon admittedly chose not to do, when it focused instead on wireless and fiber-to-where-it-could-be-profitable. Local managers, local sales efforts from local offices accompany Frontier's buildouts. (See A Brave New Frontier – in an RV.)

Will that be enough to slow down the complaints? Maybe not. But chances are the more satisfied customers are not the ones taking the time to log onto a website and register their thoughts. The proof in the pudding for Frontier will be their ability to woo customers from cable and keep them, and to find profits in bringing broadband to many who haven't had it in the past.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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