Frontier phone switch starts

Staff WriterJuly 1, 2010 

As of this morning, about 200,000 households and businesses in the state have a new phone company: Frontier Communications.

Frontier is taking over Verizon customers, employees and facilities in Durham, Creedmoor, Monroe and western areas in the mountains. The change is part of Frontier's $8.6 billion acquisition of 4.8 million Verizon customers in 14 states, including North Carolina.

The move makes Connecticut-based Frontier this state's third-largest landline telephone provider, after AT&T (formerly BellSouth) and CenturyLink (formerly Embarq and before that, Sprint).

Frontier now has 7 million customers in 27 states, where it has carved out a niche in providing rural telephone, Internet and satellite television service. The switch did not require approval from the N.C. Utilities Commission.

In nine states that required regulatory approval, Frontier agreed to consumer-protection measures. In some states, the company agreed to freeze rates, while in others, it promised to expand broadband access. The company also reached agreements last month with the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to preserve union jobs.

About 450 Verizon employees in North Carolina will become part of Frontier. This state's workers are represented by the IBEW.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the Verizon transfer in May after Frontier pledged to invest in high-speed Internet networks to improve access in rural areas, where broadband availability typically lags urban and suburban markets.

"For us, broadband expansion is of paramount importance," said Frontier spokesman Steve Crosby. "Within three years, in all of our areas, we've committed to having at least 85 percent availability."

Crosby said Frontier's current service areas have about 92 percent access, compared with about 62 percent for Verizon. In the past, Frontier has given away nearly 100,000 Dell netbook computers to encourage customers to subscribe to broadband service, he said. The company hasn't announced any broadband promotions for its newly acquired customers.

Verizon plans to focus on its wireless business and on large corporate accounts. Verizon has been losing landline customers at the rate of 10 percent a year.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

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