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Citynet asks PSC to investigate Frontier over fiber network use

By Eric Eyre, Staff writer

In an escalating feud between Internet providers, Citynet filed a formal complaint against Frontier Communications this week, alleging Frontier is stifling competition in West Virginia.

Citynet said Frontier is refusing to honor a decade-old agreement that allows competing Internet carriers to lease fiber-optic cable from Frontier, a practice that could drive up Internet prices for consumers.

Citynet filed the complaint with the Public Service Commission. The Bridgeport-based telecommunication firm has asked the PSC to start an investigation into Frontier’s alleged “anti-competitive” and “detrimental” practices.

“We are confident that the Public Service Commission will work to protect the interests of the people of the state by enforcing the applicable rules and regulations so that competition can exist and even flourish, which will result in better services and lower prices for businesses and residents throughout West Virginia,” Citynet CEO Jim Martin said Tuesday.

The Public Service Commission has directed Frontier to respond to Citynet’s allegations within 10 days.

“We believe the complaint is without merit,” Frontier spokesman Dan Page said. “We abide by all state and federal regulations regarding these matters.”

In 2003, Citynet and Verizon signed an “interconnection” agreement that allows Citynet to lease unused fiber from Verizon’s network. The PSC approved the deal.

In 2010, Frontier bought Verizon’s telephone landlines and fiber network in West Virginia, promising to keep its agreements with Citynet and other competitors.

But in recent years, Citynet alleges that Frontier and Verizon have rejected 24 of Citynet’s 25 requests to lease fiber, in violation of the PSC-approved agreement. Frontier said it didn’t have any fiber available for lease to Citynet, which primarily serves businesses.

Citynet also alleges that Frontier wanted to charge “astronomical” prices for the use of Frontier’s high-capacity circuits, which Citynet needs to run Internet service to customers.

Frontier offered to charge Citynet $145,579 a month for the use of a circuit between Charleston and the Snowshoe Mountain ski resort, where Citynet has received state funds to expand high-speed Internet. A Charleston-to-Martinsburg circuit would cost up to $154,656 a month, according to the complaint filed Monday.

“Citynet believes that Frontier is engaging in anti-competitive behavior...” the complaint states.

Citynet also alleges that Frontier won’t provide maps of its fiber lines in West Virginia.

In February, Citynet asked to lease Frontier’s fiber cable between Clarksburg and Elkins, and between Clarksburg and Philippi.

“Frontier denied Citynet’s request, asserting that no fiber facilities were available,” the complaint says.

Citynet requested to see maps of Frontier’s fiber network in those areas. Frontier said it didn’t have any maps, and it would take 80 hours and cost $1,764 to create them. Citynet called Frontier’s response “absurd.”

“It is a disservice to the state of West Virginia for the largest telecommunications carrier in the state to not maintain maps of its fiber facilities,” Citynet wrote in the complaint. “The only conceivable reason Frontier would not have maps of its fiber facilities is to prevent competition from other carriers.”

Later, Citynet agreed to pay for the maps, but never heard back from Frontier, according to the complaint.

“Frontier refuses to provide those maps to Citynet in order to prevent competition to the detriment of the citizens of West Virginia,” the complaint alleges.

Also this year, Citynet asked Frontier to lease fiber in downtown Charleston that would stretch seven blocks to Citynet’s corporate office on Lee Street. Frontier refused, saying the 2003 agreement didn’t require the company to lease a “fiber loop that extends to an end user location...”

In the complaint, Citynet cited news reports that state Frontier recently completed a 2,600-mile fiber network in West Virginia. The complaint alleges that it’s “wholly implausible” that Frontier doesn’t have fiber available to lease to competitors.

In the complaint, Citynet also alleges that Frontier general manager/vice president Dana Waldo is reviewing Citynet’s fiber requests. Only Frontier’s engineers should review and approve such requests, according to the complaint.

“There is simply no reason for [unused] fiber requests to be reviewed by [Waldo] unless subjective anti-competitive factors are being considered in Frontier’s decision,” the complaint states.

Citynet has asked the PSC to interview other Frontier competitors about leasing Frontier’s fiber.

“It is unfortunate that Frontier refuses to honor and abide by its contractual commitments and continues to take whatever steps necessary to prevent competition from other carriers,” Martin said. “It is because of these practices, so few competitive providers are providing services in West Virginia.”

Citynet and Frontier have been sparring for more than two years.

Martin has alleged that Frontier used federal stimulus funds to build a statewide high-speed Internet network that solely benefits Frontier. Martin also has questioned whether Frontier inflated the number of miles of fiber-optic cable the company erected across the state.

In turn, Frontier executives urged state officials not to award any leftover stimulus funds from the statewide project to Citynet. The state wound up returning nearly $2 million to the federal government.

Last December, Waldo abruptly walked out of a public meeting at the state Capitol, after he accused Martin of misleading state officials and defaming Frontier.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @EricEyre on Twitter.


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