By Jim Davis The Herald Business Journal Editor
EVERETT — Last winter, Frontier Communications’ west region president, Melinda White, sent out a holiday greeting to the hundreds of thousands of customers in her service area.
She included an email address asking people to feel free to contact her.
“Some might say, ‘Are you nuts? Do you really want to put yourself out there to all of the customers?’” White said. “Within Frontier, because of our values and culture and our focus on the customer, it was just a natural.
“Everybody understood that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Hundreds and hundreds of people responded, White said.
“I received compliments, concerns, questions, ‘can’t-believe-you-made-yourself-available-like-this,’ all kinds of comments,” White said. “We responded to every single one.”
Four years ago on July 1, Frontier took over 4.8 million land lines from Verizon in 14 states, including Washington, to become the largest provider of telecommunications in rural and suburban areas of the United States.
The company provides telephone, Internet and video services to more than 210,000 customers in Washington, operating from Snohomish County to the Canadian border, including most of Skagit, Island and Whatcom counties.
Frontier maintains a regional headquarters in Everett and is one of the city’s largest employers with 564 employees. (The Herald moved into the same building as Frontier at 1800 41st St. this year.)
White is in charge of more than 2,000 employees in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana.
In June, at an interview in the executive boardroom of Frontier’s Everett headquarters, White, who is based in Oregon, said her company’s principles include being committed to customer service and investing in the business. The holiday greeting — and the invitation for people to contact her — was an example of the company’s commitment to customer service.
She hoped it sent a message not only to customers but also employees.
“It showed the employees that leadership understands the value of the customer and it also showed the customer that if there’s something you want to say to us, just reach right out and say it,” White said.
As for investments in the business, White said Frontier has spent $214 million in the past three years in Washington alone to upgrade its network, provide new products and technology and broaden its reach.
She said the Verizon properties had just a 68 percent broadband reach. Today, the company has a national broadband reach of 85 percent, White said. In Washington, that number is closer to 95 percent.
She said the company also is making investments in technology aimed at helping businesses. One of those investments is an increasing access to Ethernet, a type of high-speed network. Conventional broadband service receives data at a higher capacity than it can send. Ethernet receives and sends data at the same speed both ways, which is appealing to businesses.
She said that many businesses don’t know that Frontier is a major provider of equipment, from phone systems to cabling.
She said the company believes strongly in the land line business, because “it’s really the foundation for that credibility, reliability and service level for the network that you then build on.”
“When we go into a commercial office, the first thing our rep does is eye the phone system,” White said. “How many small-, medium-sized customers have a phone system that it’s amazing it works?”
And the company is developing other technology to help businesses, including Frontier AnyWare, a cloud-based data and voice system. Frontier is also working with Seattle company ZipWhip to enable businesses to accept text messages on land lines.
One of the major issues affecting telecommunications companies at the moment is net neutrality.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing Internet service providers to charge extra to companies like Google and Netflix for greater capacity. The concern is that larger companies will have faster speeds but smaller companies will end up with slower speeds.
Frontier doesn’t have plans to create a tiered system that would prioritize any business. But the company is in favor of being able to have more control over what it can do with its own network.
“I just mentioned earlier how much money we’ve invested in the network and that’s just for the state of Washington,” White said. “As the investor and builder of our network, I think it’s fair for us to have a say in how that network is utilized.”
Shortly after the Verizon acquisition, Frontier’s stock climbed to $9.73 a share. Then it fell steadily to a low of $3.74 a share in May 2012. It has since grown steadily to $5.74 a share last month.
White has been working with Frontier for 9½ years and was at the company’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut before the Verizon acquisition. She said the purchase has been good for the company.
She noted the company’s revenues have been healthy. The company earned $101.2 million in net income in the year ending in March.
White started as west region president a year ago. In the first three to four months, she traveled to meet with every employee and shake each of their hands.
“I know that is the ticket to success,” White said. “If you want to take care of the customer then you engage with those who touch the customer every day.”