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Broadband provider Frontier Communications recently laid off the West Virginia state Senate president after a vote the company didn’t like—and yes, you read that correctly.
West Virginia does not have a full-time legislature, and state lawmakers can supplement their part-time government salaries ($20,000 a year, according to BallotPedia) with jobs in the private sector. West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a Republican from Jackson County, was also a sales manager for Frontier. But after six years with the company, Frontier terminated his employment on May 26.
The dismissal came just weeks after Carmichael voted for a broadband infrastructure bill that was designed to bring faster speeds, lower prices, and more competition to Internet customers. It was described as a layoff in local press reports, but Carmichael said in multiple interviews that he believes the Senate vote led to his newfound unemployment.
“I bet you that cost me my job”
“I kind of had an emotion when we cast that bill,” Carmichael told West Virginia Metro News in a story published Monday. “In fact, I even told some of my colleagues, I said, ‘I bet you that cost me my job.’”
Frontier denied that the vote was the reason for Carmichael losing his job. “Mr. Carmichael’s position was eliminated as part of a wider reduction in force made necessary by market and economic conditions,” a Frontier spokesperson told Ars today. “Beyond this, Frontier will decline further comment, as is our company policy regarding personnel matters.”
Carmichael “said he is unaware of any other employees being laid off in recent weeks,” according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The bill opposed by Frontier “allows up to 20 families or businesses to form nonprofit co-ops that provide broadband service” in areas that have poor infrastructure and “authorizes up to three cities or counties to band together and build broadband networks,” the Gazette-Mail wrote. Frontier “argued that the state should target areas without broadband—and not try to spur broadband projects in communities that already have the service,” the article said.
“I know that Frontier was lobbying heavily against [the bill],” Carmichael told Metro News. “My first responsibility is to the people of West Virginia, so I had to do what I felt was right.”
Carmichael recused himself from the debate before the vote, but then voted for the bill. It was passed 31-1 by the Republican-controlled Senate and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, a Democrat, on April 26.
Frontier asked Carmichael to sign a nondisclosure agreement that would prevent him from talking about his dismissal, but he refused to sign it, he told the Gazette Mail.
The paper described Carmichael as “Frontier’s most powerful ally in the Legislature.”
“I slept better knowing I did the right thing”
Frontier expanded last year when it purchased Verizon’s FiOS and DSL businesses in California, Florida, and Texas. The transition was a nightmare for customers, who were quickly hit with outages and other service problems. Frontier reported revenue of $2.4 billion and a net loss of $75 million in the most recent quarter. Its stock price has been falling significantly, underperforming the market, and investors who just helped the company raise $1.5 billion are reportedly “already regretting it.”lured him back with a pay increase.
“They recruited me back to Frontier” last year, Carmichael told The State Journal. “They desperately wanted me to stay. Then when this [broadband] bill, which Frontier lobbied heavily against, passed, this action was taken.”
He didn’t regret his vote. “I slept better knowing that I did the right thing, even if it cost me my job,” he said.
Carmichael’s legislative policies sometimes coincided with Frontier’s interests. When “Citynet lobbied for legislation that would have created a statewide broadband Internet network… Carmichael sharply criticized the bill on the Senate floor, saying the legislation would discourage Internet providers like his employer, Frontier, from expanding existing broadband networks or building new ones,” the Gazette-Mail wrote last year. That bill passed in the Senate but was blocked in the West Virginia House, which had two Frontier executives in the chamber.
“Frontier’s a big employer, and they do a lot of positive things for the state,” Carmichael said at the time.
But Carmichael showed that he wouldn’t support all of Frontier’s policies in the more recent broadband infrastructure vote. “The one thing I’m not going to do here as Senate president is advance special interests,” Carmichael told the Gazette-Mail. “It was obvious the body [Legislature] wanted that bill, and I wasn’t going to stand in the way of it.”
Carmichael said he’ll look for another job at a company that won’t object to his legislative policies.
“I guess I look forward to working for an institute, company or institution that values personal choice in allowing public servants to serve in a role that benefits all of West Virginia,” he told Metro News. “Not just the interests of a particular company.”