State Lawmaker Says Cable Company Blocking Broadband Legislation

While we all know that companies don’t spend piles of cash on campaign contributions and lobbying just to support candidates they believe in, it’s rare to hear an in-office politician openly calling out his colleagues for bending to the will of a corporate backer.

But that’s exactly what happened last week when West Virginia delegate Randy Smith spoke publicly about opposition he’s faced trying to get two pieces of broadband-related legislation through the state assembly.

One bill would forbid ISPs in the state from advertising “high speed broadband” for anything slower than 10 Mbps. That’s still lower than the FCC’s recently revised 25 Mpbs definition, but given the number of rural users in West Virginia, supporters believe it’s a reasonable standard. His second bill would allow consumers to take broadband billing disputes to the state’s attorney general’s office.

The two pieces of legislation are doomed, says Smith, because they could mean more rules for Frontier Communications, which he dubs “the only game in town for many rural communities in West Virginia when it comes to Internet service.”

“After introducing the legislation, I spoke with someone in leadership and was told it’d go nowhere because it would hurt Frontier,” wrote Smith in a Facebook post last week. “In other words, Frontier has its hands in our state Capitol. The company knows how to play ball with the legislative process.”

Speaking to the Charleston Gazette, Smith said one member of the assembly leadership told him the bills would not get support “because they feel like it’s targeting Frontier.”

But the delegate says these bills are not meant to single out Frontier, but are “intended to protect the consumer from all companies.”

Additionally, he points out that the 10 Mbps bill doesn’t require Frontier or any other broadband provider to increase speeds, only to be more honest in their ads.

“They could still sell the slower service, but they couldn’t advertise it as high-speed Internet,” explained Smith. “Companies are advertising high-speed Internet, but not providing it.”

A rep for the company, which was sued last year by West Virginians for allegedly failing to deliver promised broadband speeds, said Frontier sees the legislation as “having a negative effect on further development of rural broadband services.”

And, unlike too many other things in politics, this particular standoff is not about party lines. Both Smith and leadership allegedly blocking the bill are all on the same side of the aisle.

The state’s Majority Leader tells the Gazette that there is no blanket policy where the state assembly sides with Frontier, while also openly defending the company.

“Frontier has been trying to spend money to upgrade service, but it hasn’t been easy for those guys,” he explained. “We’re trying to expand broadband and improve the speeds everywhere we can. We try to nudge Frontier when we can, push them when we can, while we respect their investment.”


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