In late April, West Virginia’s governor signed into law a bill that will improve broadband competition in the state. The law authorizes a pilot project for towns to band together to create their own networks, as well as make it easier for families and businesses to create cooperatives to offer broadband service.
Frontier Communications, which provides broadband service to much of the state, opposed the bill, arguing that the state should focus on providing broadband to areas that don’t have it rather than fostering competition where service really exists. The lobbying effort failed miserably; the bill passed overwhelmingly through the House (97 to 2) and Senate (31 t0 1).
While the war over the law appears to be over, Frontier Communications is still waging its political battle. The company managed to find a way to punish one lawmaker for supporting the legislation: by laying him off.
In West Virginia, legislators work part-time and hold other jobs to make a living. Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael was an executive at Frontier Communications for six years until, weeks after he ushered through the broadband bill, Frontier laid him off.
Carmichael told the Charleston Gazette-Mail he didn’t want to stop working at the telecom company. “This was not something I wanted at all,” he said. “They had a bad year, from a legislative perspective. They severed ties from me.”
The now-former Frontier executive-cum-Senate president had come up against what is supposed to be a simple challenge for public servants: putting the people’s will over his own, private interests. “The one thing I’m not going to do here as Senate president is advance special interests,” Carmichael said. “It was obvious the body” — the legislature — “wanted that bill, and I wasn’t going to stand in the way of it.”
It’s not the first time the company has clashed with the state. In late 2015, the company agreed to pay $150 million to settle a lawsuit over its lackluster broadband speeds.