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Frontier Internet speeds lag, report says

By Eric Eyre, Staff writer
A new report says only 12 percent of Frontier customers have an Internet speed that meets a federal and state minimum standard for broadband service.

Staff writer

Frontier Communications customers have the slowest Internet speeds in West Virginia, according to a state report released Monday.

Only 12 percent of Frontier’s customers have an Internet speed that meets a federal and state minimum standard for broadband service, the report said. Frontier is West Virginia’s largest Internet provider.

“The data set tells us that Frontier has the lowest speeds,” said Tony Simental, who helped compile the statistics for the state “Broadband Strategic Plan” -- scheduled to be presented to the West Virginia Broadband Council at a meeting Wednesday in Pocahontas County.

Within the 69-page report, Simental and his colleagues spotlight companies’ Internet speeds based on more than 200,000 online “speed tests” submitted by customers at homes and businesses in West Virginia this year. State law and the Federal Communications Commission define broadband as service with a minimum acceptable Internet download speed at 4 megabits per second, and an upload speed at 1 megabit per second.

Frontier criticized the report Monday, saying the survey method skewed the numbers in West Virginia.

Customers with slow Internet speeds were more likely to take the online test because they’re dissatisfied with their broadband service, said Dan Page, a Frontier spokesman.

“As we’ve said before, the speed tests are the result of self-selected, self-reported samples,” Page said. “People who take speed tests tend to be those with speed problems or low speeds.”

Page said that Frontier customers often choose to buy Internet service slower than the state and federal standard. Lower speeds are less expensive.

Also, Frontier is the only company that provides Internet service to large numbers of customers in West Virginia’s most rural areas, where speeds are typically slower, Page said.

“Some of these areas are served by first-generation broadband equipment, and those areas are receiving our attention,” he said. “At the same time, other providers concentrate their service in more densely populated areas, where service is more easily delivered at lower cost per household.”

Comcast Cable had the fastest speeds, with 88 percent of customers reporting Internet speeds that met or exceeded state and federal standards, according to the report. Suddenlink Communications finished second with 80 percent of customers meeting the standards, followed by Time Warner Cable (77 percent), Shentel (71 percent), Armstrong Cable (67 percent) and LUMOS Networks (44 percent).

The report included speed test data from West Virginia Network, or WVNET, a state agency that provides Internet service to schools, universities, state offices and other public facilities. Ninety-three percent of WVNET users reported Internet speeds that met standards.

Statewide, 63 percent of West Virginians had an Internet speed that met the standard, up from 59 percent last year, and 48 percent in 2012.

“As the speed data shows, West Virginia is making progress in improving broadband infrastructure,” the report states. “However, there is still work to be done to ensure that 100 percent of our citizens have access to broadband at minimally defined speeds.”

While Frontier had the lowest percentage of customers who reported meeting the download and upload standard, that percentage increased from 4 percent in 2012 to 11 percent last year, and inched up to 12 percent this year.

Page said Frontier has expanded broadband availability to 180,000 additional households in West Virginia since 2010. The new service and high-speed Internet upgrades meet or exceed the state and federal speed standards, he said.

“We have completed service upgrades this year for 262 communities, benefiting thousands of customers,” Page said. “Scores of additional improvement projects are scheduled for completion [later] this year.”

Not surprisingly, Internet speeds vary sharply across West Virginia. Rural counties typically reported the slowest speeds.

In Pocahontas County, only 4 percent of customers with Internet service had speeds that met the standard, according to the report. Other counties with slow speeds included Pleasants County, with 6 percent of customers having the recommended speed, while Hampshire County reported 8 percent of customers meeting the standard.

“A lack of broadband availability and adequate speeds continues to plague rural areas in the state as evidenced by current broadband maps and the outcry of West Virginia citizens,” the report says. “There is still a severe digital divide...”

In Kanawha County, 64 percent of Internet users had speeds that met the standard.

Hancock County customers have the fastest speeds in West Virginia, with 85 percent topping the standard, followed by Ohio County (82 percent), Wood County (81 percent) and Monongalia County (80 percent).

The report includes a survey of West Virginia residents and business owners to gauge whether they’re satisfied with their Internet service. West Virginia residents were dissatisfied with their Internet speed, cost, access and reliability. Meanwhile, businesses were satisfied with their broadband speed, cost, access and customer service.

Both residential and business customers said they were dissatisfied with the lack of broadband service competition, saying they had only one or two Internet companies to choose from.

“Overall, business and residents see broadband as critical to growth and competition,” the report states.

The broadband report recommends that the state establish a “lead agency” to spur broadband expansion in West Virginia. The report also urges the state to continue to monitor Internet speeds through its “broadband mapping program,” and to keep afloat the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council. The 15-member council is scheduled to disband Dec. 31.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre.


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