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After Frontier dismissal, WV Senate head hired by rival Citynet

By ERIC EYRE

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three months after Frontier Communications laid him off, West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael has gone to work for one of Frontier’s biggest critics and competitors.

Citynet, a Bridgeport-based internet firm, recently hired Carmichael as business development director — a new position at the company.

Charleston Gazette-Mail photo
Carmichael
Frontier dismissed Carmichael in late May after he refused to torpedo a broadband internet expansion bill that the company vigorously opposed. Citynet and Frontier have sparred over legislation, government funding and lawsuits for years.

“The folks at Citynet reached out to me,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “They are trying very hard to expand broadband internet to West Virginia citizens and improve internet speeds, and that’s something I’m passionate about, so it’s a good fit. It feels like a real, true West Virginia company.”

Carmichael’s hiring is expected to increase Citynet’s muscle in the Legislature. But Citynet spokesman Chris Morris said the firm has no plans to ask lawmakers to introduce broadband-related legislation next year.

“Mitch has a long work history in the telecommunications industry,” Morris said. “We hired him based on his experience.”

Carmichael said he doesn’t expect his new job to pose any conflicts with his role as Senate leader, even though Citynet has secured state grants and low-interest loans in recent years.

“It’s not only a good business opportunity, but also it’s doing good public service,” Carmichael said. “It’s incredibly inspiring to be at a company that wants to do good for the people of West Virginia, and not always looking at pure profit.”

This is the second time Carmichael has accepted a job with Citynet. His first stop with the firm was brief.

In August 2016, Citynet hired Carmichael. The company announced the hiring in a press release. But within days, Carmichael changed his mind and returned to his job as sales director at Frontier — after the company gave him a bonus.

“I went down that path with Citynet a year ago, but Frontier got me to come back, gave me a big bonus,” said Carmichael, who worked at Frontier for six years.

His relationship with the company would soon get rocky.

On April 7, Carmichael, a Frontier sales manager at the time, voted for a comprehensive broadband bill that aims to improve and expand high-speed internet across the state by spurring competition. Frontier, West Virginia’s largest internet provider, lobbied against the legislation, which Gov. Jim Justice signed into law on April 26.

While the bill was under consideration, Carmichael broke ranks with Frontier lobbyists. He declined to oppose the legislation, which allows up to 20 families or businesses to form nonprofit co-ops that provide broadband service in areas shunned by internet providers. The bill authorizes up to three cities or counties to band together and build broadband networks, and the legislation provides loan guarantees through the state Economic Development Authority, whose board members are appointed by the governor.

“In his role as Senate president, Mitch has no control over the economic development authority,” Morris said.

In opposing the bill, 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 legislation passed by overwhelming margins in the House and Senate. Supporters, including Citynet, predict increased competition will lead to faster internet speeds and lower prices for consumers.

Carmichael recused himself from the debate over the bill on the Senate floor, and later voted for it.

A month after the bill became law, Carmichael received his walking papers. Frontier cited “reduction in force” as the reason for letting Carmichael go, according to the senator.

Frontier has declined to comment on Carmichael’s departure. He was Frontier’s most powerful ally in the Legislature.

Carmichael said Frontier has asked him to sign a “nondisclosure” agreement that would prohibit him from talking about his dismissal. He said he refused to sign it.

“During the last legislative session, Mitch demonstrated he will do what’s right for his constituents, even it’s a policy his employer doesn’t support,” Morris said.

In July, Frontier filed a lawsuit to prevent the enforcement of the new broadband law, arguing that it conflicts with federal regulations and increases the chances of an interruption or outage for customers.

Last year, Citynet sued Frontier for allegedly stifling competition in West Virginia and using federal stimulus funds to build a broadband network that solely benefits Frontier.

Frontier has disputed the allegations, characterizing Citynet as a disgruntled competitor with a six-year vendetta against Frontier, which is headquartered in Connecticut.

Carmichael worked for Frontier those six years before being dismissed. He said Tuesday that he’s just glad to have a full-time, private-sector job again.

“I love the industry. I love the routine and grind of work,” Carmichael said. “I was disappointed I lost my job, but it all works out.”

Reach Eric Eyre at [email protected], 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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