Frontier and CenturyLink told the FCC they may not have met all deployment deadlines for 2020 for the Connect America Fund CAF II rural broadband program. If so, that would mark the second time the companies have missed CAF II deployment deadlines.
The CAF II program awarded funding to the nation’s larger carriers to bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas within their local service territories. Frontier accepted $283 million in funding annually and CenturyLink accepted $514 million annually.
Funding recipients were given six years to complete buildouts to a specific number of locations and were given interim deadlines to complete deployment to a specific percentage of locations.
Missed CAF II Deadlines
In a letter to the FCC, CenturyLink said it met or exceeded the program’s December 31, 2020 milestone in 10 states but may not have met the 100% milestone in 23 states. Frontier told the FCC that it met the year-end 2020 milestone in eight states but may not have reached it in 17 other states.
The companies must report more definitive deployment data by March 1.
Last year at this time, Frontier said it had met the CAF II deployment milestones for year-end 2019 in 16 states but might not have met the target in 13 others. CenturyLink said it had met milestones in 10 states but might miss the target in 23 others.
Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2020, but attributed this year’s deployment delays to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than the bankruptcy.
“As with other companies, we experienced workforce challenges associated with team members who became ill or were required to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure,” Frontier said in its letter to the FCC about the potentially missed CAF II deadlines. “Our crews also faced delays because state and local permitting offices were closed. Further, widespread supply-chain and shipping delays – whether for personal protective equipment or necessary broadband electronics – constrained deployment progress. And, even when our crews could freely travel, securing safe, available lodging in some of the most rural parts of the country was unexpectedly difficult.”
Some operations for which Frontier accepted CAF II funding back in 2015 are now in the hands of Ziply Fiber. Ziply acquired Frontier operations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in May 2020.
In its own letter to the FCC, Ziply said it had met CAF II deployment requirements in all states acquired from Frontier except Washington, where Ziply said it had met over 96% of the 100% deployment milestone. Ziply attributed the delay to the September 2020 wildfires in the region. Remaining Washington locations are expected to be completed by February 16, 2021, Ziply said.
According to CenturyLink, states for which the company may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
States for which Frontier may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
Frontier said it expects to meet its final CAF II deployment milestone by June 30 in all outstanding states except Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the expected completion date is September 30.