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About a year ago, the West Virginia Public Service Commission ordered Frontier Communications to improve its internet service.

The utility is busy doing just that.

Frontier service long had been derided by ordinary consumers for its relative slowness. Suddenlink customers in Kanawha, Putnam, Wood and other counties routinely stuck with the devil they knew — and its notoriously frustrating customer service — because of Frontier’s pokiness.

Suddenlink has faced complaints, too. The House of Delegates established an online portal to field those beefs. Residents have vented at three public hearings. PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane last month raised the specter of forcing Suddenlink to establish a West Virginia call center, to enable residents to better understand conversations. Suddenlink has vowed to do better.

Frontier has been forced to do better, reaching an agreement with the commission and others to make $200 million in improvements as a condition of the company’s return from March 2020 bankruptcy. Frontier won nearly $250 million last year in a Federal Communications Commission lottery of sorts.

The feds expected Frontier to extend access, despite past difficulties. In 2017, Frontier had to return $5 million in tax money after the feds determined the company had wasted the funds.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spoke out against Frontier winning FCC money last year and vowed to fight an ultimate reward. She recently congratulated Bridgeport-based Citynet for receiving FCC money.

West Virginia is now relatively awash in money to extend broadband, whether it be from the FCC lottery, American Cares Act allocations or the state’s share of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill.

Frontier is spending somebody’s dough on new fiber-optic lines. It’s advertising a $40-a-month, 500-megabyte-per-second plan. Crews worked last week in upscale Putnam County subdivisions, although not everyone was happy about it.

“I didn’t know anything about this,” said Anthony Gravely, 40, of Glen Oaks, a muscular fellow who wore an Army T-shirt on the warm day. “I pay $600 a year to have my lawn treated by TruGreen.”

Gravely pointed to a sinkhole in the corner of his lot.

“They should not be able to start tearing up my yard without telling me about it,” he said.

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Sarah Drennan, 40, said crews hit water lines.

“But they were very nice and worked hard,” she said.

Utility companies typically are granted right-of-way when installing infrastructure.

“This makes no sense to me at all,” Clifford Smith, 87, said. “Of all the places in West Virginia that have no internet at all, why would they start here?”

Flat population centers, particularly such as Putnam County’s south side, are Mountain State rarities. In a flat, dense subdivision, an internet provider can generate instantly new customers or create potentially new ones more easily than by taking on mountainous terrain.

Neither Frontier nor Suddenlink officials could be reached for comment.

Putnam County Commissioner Ron Foster said the area could use top-notch service. Many in the bedroom county work from home.

Suddenlink, for decades the possessor of the area’s only high-speed service, has sent the Kanawha County Commission a letter asking for support in extending service to Sissonville. Suddenlink says it wants to use a state grant to provide 40% of the $12 million cost, bringing fiber to nearly 10,000 homes. Its Sissonville speed would be slower than Frontier’s 500 mbps offer, but scalable to a higher speed and an improvement over what exists.

Fiber optics are superior to cable. They are composed of multiple glass strands only as thick as a human hair but strong and capable of transmitting huge amounts of voice, data and video by light. Fiber optics either can be buried or run on a pole, as they are being done in the flats of Charleston. Burying them, though messy at the outset, offers a cleaner look later.

Parkersburg-based CAS Cable has filed an application for a cable franchise with the city of Charleston. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper described the situation as “win-win”

“Where the downside to this is, I don’t know,” Carper said. “Faster service, more reliability, better speed, everything people want.”

Greg Stone covers business. He can be reached at 304-348-5124 or gstone@hd

mediallc.com.

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