Frontier Plans to Kill Copper

CEO Nick Jeffery of Frontier said at a recent investor conference that the company believes it will be out of the copper business within five years. The company is facing the same dilemma as the other big copper owners like AT&T, Lumen, Verizon, and Windstream.

The company has an interesting path ahead to get rid of copper. At the end of the first quarter of this year, Frontier still had 9.9 million copper passings compared to 5.5 million fiber passings. But that oddly doesn’t translate into a greater number of copper customers, with 1.6 million fiber customers compared to just under 1 million copper customers.

This demonstrates the extent to which Frontier has lost DSL customers over the last decade. For much of the last decade, Frontier was the biggest percentage loser of broadband customers almost every year and quarter. At the end of 2017, the company had over 3.9 million broadband customers compared to 2.6 million now. Frontier shed some customers in the asset sale in the Northwest to Ziply, but most of the customer losses are from DSL customers fleeing to some other technology.

The company announced a goal last year to reach 10 million fiber passings by the end of 2025, so it will continue to overbuild copper areas with fiber. That should cover about half of the remaining copper passings. When Jeffery talks about getting out of the copper business, he’s talking about eventually walking away from the remaining 4 – 5 million copper passings.

But that may not turn out to be as drastic as that sounds. Many of Frontier’s copper passings will be overbuilt with fiber or some other technology as a result of the BEAD and other federal and state grant programs. Frontier will likely be participating in many of these grants to reach it’s goal of 10 million total fiber passings.

The other technology that has to be putting a big dent in DSL is FWA wireless from cellular companies. The pricing is similar to DSL pricing, but the speeds are faster. The cellular companies are marketing to the same demographic that has stayed with DSL even where cable broadband is available – households for whom price is more important than broadband speed. Verizon and T-Mobile have sprung from nowhere to gain 4.1 million FWA customers nationwide over the last year or so – and a lot of those customers must be switching from DSL.

My guess is that Frontier won’t have to cut many DSL customers dead in five years. Between their own fiber expansion, the many grant programs, and FWA cellular wireless, it seems likely that most of Frontier’s remaining DSL customers will be off copper by then. But there will inevitably be some unlucky remaining customers who will get the notice that their copper will be going dead with no offered replacement. My best guess is that Frontier’s exit from copper might be relatively easier than if the company tried to kill copper today, as is being done by AT&T and Verizon. Those two telcos are taking a lot of grief when they discontinue active copper customers. But in five years it’s likely that very few people will even be interested in the remaining Frontier copper. My guess is that market forces will get the company out of the copper business without too much pain.

4 thoughts on “Frontier Plans to Kill Copper

  1. Where will all the junk go? Central offices of all LEC’s are stacked high with DSLAMs and TDM oriented equipment. The good news is the amount of available power in CO’s will rise. What will they do with all that newly (potentially) vacant real estate? The bad news is their buildings will be loaded with potentially hazard waste abandoned in place with no plans to do anything about it.

    It will be amazing to see the day the A frame gets removed, along with a suffocating amount of regulation.

  2. Doug thank you for sharing this information. This is a really big deal. As the Channel Chief at Brightspeed (5th Largest US ILEC), I want you and you readers to know that we are still selling, servicing, commissioning DSL, POTS, PRI and we plan to continue to do so. Our partners are selling it and customers are buying it. We are investing our fiber network, but we still see the value of copper assets in the markets we serve. Go to our website and click on voice services option and you’ll see us promoting ISDN! right next to HVOIP. Thanks again for shining a light on this critical shift in the market. Copper is dead, long live copper!

  3. What is Frontier doing with their Copper Voice customers? I can understand decomissioning the data side but what are the applicable regulations associated with the sunset of copper voice?

    All that newly found CO power and space would be great for those edge compute companies to rent out.

    Now might also be the time to find space in the garage for a 5ESS or DMS100!

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