Windstream defends its $80M commitment to broadband in Georgia, says rural markets are challenging

Windstream CEO Tony Thomas is defending the telco's network and service position in Georgia, telling a U.S. congressman that it has continued to make necessary upgrades to support next-gen broadband services for businesses and consumers in the state.

Thomas

In a letter to Rep. Doug Collins (R - Ga.), Thomas said that since 2014 the telco had invested over $80 million to upgrade its broadband infrastructure throughout Georgia. A big part of that investment included deepening the reach of its fiber network to include neighborhood nodes serving 97 percent of Windstream's customers in the ninth congressional district.

"The upgraded fiber-to-the-node network enables us to offer speeds of at least 10 Mbps -- and up to 100 Mbps -- to 81 percent of the locations we serve in the Ninth District," Thomas said in a letter. "This measure was 77 percent at the time of my Feb. 29 response to you. At least 20 Mbps is available at 45 percent of these locations, compared with 40 percent in my prior letter."

Thomas said that Windstream is seeing customers purchase the higher speeds now that they are available, adding that it plans to conduct other network upgrades in the state this year.

"We are already seeing good consumer response to these new speed offerings as we have added about 500 net new customers so far this year," Thomas said. "Moreover, we continue to upgrade our network and expect to invest an additional $38 million in Georgia in 2016."

Collins recently called out Windstream on the pace of its network buildout, triggering the back-and-forth war of words.

"We keep hearing more and more excuses from Windstream," Collins said in a letter to Windstream. "The reality is, there is a local fire department that is unable to adequately serve the community because of poor Windstream connections. There are people who are unable to operate businesses, or work from home, because of unreliable service. This is unacceptable."

Thomas responded that Windstream, which serves largely rural areas, met its commitments under the USDA Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiatives Program, and is accepting CAF-II funds to build a middle mile fiber network between its central offices and the new neighborhood nodes.

"This is the most efficient way to provide faster Internet speeds to the greatest number of rural customers lacking those services," Thomas said of the middle mile build.

Collins countered that Windstream needs to ensure the taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

"There is a distinct possibility that the networks are over capacity, and utilize outdated technology," Collins said. "Because Windstream has preferred tax status from the IRS, and has accepted taxpayer money from the Connect America Fund, they need to be held accountable to Congress and Northeast Georgians."

In order to address customer concerns, Windstream has developed a Rapid Response Team in Cornelia, Georgia to address the concerns of ninth district customers.

Thomas said the Rapid Response team has taken multiple calls about network services and questions about what speeds customers can get.

"While you have not forwarded any of your constituents' concerns to this Team, it has handled 87 calls since February. Interestingly, about one-third of the calls have been inquiries about available speeds rather than complaints," Thomas said. "Twenty-five percent of the calls have been related to actual repair issues, and the remainder of the volume is attributable to general account inquiries. We have addressed all of these items, and there is no backlog of unaddressed customer inquiries."

For more:
- see Collins' letter (PDF)

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