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Frontier launches groundbreaking rural broadband effort

John Seelmeyer

It’s not every day that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and top executives of a Fortune 500 company stop by Topaz Lake and Minden on their way from a business event at Markleeville.

So what exactly was FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski doing as he lunched with executives of Frontier Communications Corp. at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden last week?

It turns out it was a pretty big deal in the telecommunications industry.

Frontier Communications, which got into the market in Douglas County and nearby Alpine County, California, when it acquired assets spun off by Verizon Corp. in 2010 and upgraded broadband services in the area.

And the FCC considered it a big enough deal to send its chairman because the Topaz Lake and Markleeville projects were the first in the nation to be partially financed by a new Connect America Fund.

The federal initiative, which is financed through the Universal Service Fund fees on telephone bills, is designed to bring broadband access to 7 million rural Americans within the next six years.

The Topaz Lake projects brings the FCC closer by 423 households to its 7 million person goal. The Alpine County work added another 623 households.

The upgrade of Frontier’s broadband service in Douglas County, which has been funded entirely by the company without federal assistance, will improve Internet service to more than 5,700 households in Frontier’s service territory.

The company decided to focus its initial Connect America efforts on Douglas and Alpine counties because the region fit into federal standards for the use of the money and because the upgrades would bring fairly wide benefits quickly, a spokeswoman for Frontier said.

While lines and cable to support the upgrade were in place, the company needed to invest in additional network equipment.

Maggie Wilderotter, the chairman of Frontier Communications and a resident of Zephyr Cove, told community leaders in Minden that the new broadband will help the region create jobs and will help in the effort to recruit new employers to the region.

And Genachowski said better access to broadband will improve services ranging from education to healthcare in rural communities.