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Frontier exec storms out of broadband meeting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frontier Communications executive Dana Waldo abruptly walked out of a public meeting at the West Virginia Capitol on Wednesday, after he accused Citynet CEO Jim Martin of misleading state officials and defaming Frontier.

"Jim, it's over," Waldo told Martin during a Broadband Deployment Council meeting. "I'm done talking to you. I'm done . . . wasting my time responding to your mischaracterizations.

"I'm not going to sit here and waste my time and hear more of his nonsense," Waldo continued. "I'll excuse myself."

Tension between Waldo and Martin -- both of whom sit on the council -- had been building for months.

Martin has said Frontier used federal stimulus funds to build a statewide high-speed Internet network that solely benefits Frontier. Martin also has questioned if Frontier inflated the number of miles of fiber-optic cable the company erected across the state. In turn, Frontier executives have urged state officials not to award any leftover stimulus funds from the statewide project to Citynet.

At Wednesday's meeting, Waldo and Martin started sparring while Broadband Deployment Council members were reviewing grant applications from a Frontier competitor that plans to bring broadband service to a small community in Tyler County. Waldo said Frontier planned to expand into the same area next year.

Martin asked Waldo if Frontier's broadband technology would provide households with 4-megabit-per-second download and 1-megabit-per-second upload speeds.

"I'll have an engineer talk to you about the technology we use on that," said Waldo, senior vice president and general manager of Frontier's West Virginia operations.

Martin alleged that Frontier's broadband DSL service does not offer the 1-megabit upload speed.

"That is not correct, Jim," Waldo said. "I wasn't going to bring this up, but I am absolutely beside myself. I feel so sorry for you, that you are so desperate to make you and Citynet relevant and, apparently, keep it afloat.

"You make all these characterizations about us and everybody else."

At that point, Waldo started passing out a 2010 letter from federal officials that rejected Martin's criticism of Frontier and West Virginia's $126.3 million broadband expansion project funded by the stimulus. He also passed out a Charleston Gazette story about the letter. Parts of the letter and newspaper article were highlighted in yellow.

"My God," Waldo said, "every allegation you make and everything you said, [federal officials] dispute, and you still bring up these allegations . . .  . I'm tired talking to you about this stuff. I'm tired of the misrepresentations you make."

Waldo accused Martin of making "misleading and defaming" comments "to my company and myself."

Martin stared back at Waldo and said nothing.

Waldo stood up, left the governor's conference room, and didn't return.

After the meeting, Martin said he was just asking a question. He said Frontier's Internet DSL service in rural areas doesn't provide the 1-megabit upload speed -- a minimum standard passed by the Legislature and set into law earlier this year.

"[Waldo] couldn't defend it," Martin said. "That's why he blew up."

Martin said Waldo repeatedly has misled state lawmakers and Broadband Deployment Council members.

"It's unfortunate that Frontier is misleading the council that its current broadband technology meets the state definition of broadband," he said.

A Frontier spokesman said the company offers 1-megabit-per-second upload speeds to customers in rural parts of the state, and faster speeds in urban areas.

Martin said his criticism of West Virginia's broadband expansion project -- Frontier is a leading contractor -- has been verified by independent consultants and the state Legislative Auditor's Office, which has cited waste and mismanagement of the stimulus-funded project.

"Frontier is relying on 3-year-old stories and documents," Martin said. "But both an independent consultant hired by the Governor's Office, and the legislative auditor have confirmed what I said was true."

Also Wednesday, Broadband Council members:

• Awarded $156,660 in grant funds to StratusWave Communications, which plans to bring wireless Internet service to two communities -- Alma and Shirley -- in Tyler County. The company expects that nearly 40 new households will subscribe to high-speed Internet service.

• Rejected grant applications from the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority, McDowell County Economic Development Authority, Mercer County Sheriff's Department and the West Virginia Municipal League. The groups said their projects would increase demand for broadband service. However, a consultant told Broadband Council members that the proposals would do little to spur people to subscribe to high-speed Internet.

• Encouraged West Virginians to test their Internet speeds by going to www.speedtest.net, and sending the results to the council at bdc@westvirginia.com.

Lawmakers plan to question Waldo and Gale Given, the state's chief technology officer, about the $126.3 million broadband expansion project during interim meetings next week.

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


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