Category Archives: Telecommunications

Frontier, AT&T Union Reach Deal, Ending Feud As Hearings Start

by Categorized: Labor, Telecommunications Date:

Less than two months ago, the situation was dire between Frontier Communications and the Connecticut union representing 2,200 AT&T workers who would join Frontier after a proposed merger.

On May 2, negotiators for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1298, ended meetings with Frontier amid angry accusations as the union believed the company would cut more than 1,000 jobs even though Frontier said it would maintain the workforce. CWA vowed to block Frontier’s attempt to buy AT&T’s wireline business in the state for $2 billion.

But Wednesday, the two sides reached a peaceful deal — one day before state regulators begin hearings on the AT&T-Frontier sale.

Under the deal, Frontier, based in Stamford, would:

  • add 85 new union jobs.
  • guarantee job security and workforce size.
  • give priority routing to Connecticut call centers.
  • open a new service center for dispatch and U-verse tech support.
  • move to a system in which technicians for U-verse and other services will be unified in order to speed and improve installations and repairs.
  • give all union members 100 shares of Frontier stock, which were worth $5.70 each after Wednesday’s close on the Nasdaq market.
  • extend the existing contract by two years to 2018.

The union members include customer service reps, line workers, engineers, splicers, installers, reviewers and support staff. CWA has shown a willingness to fight long and hard, most recently holding out for 13 months under an expired contract before signing a new agreement with AT&T – making it the last of the company’s U.S. bargaining units to do so after a 2012 contract expiration.

“After several months of complex negotiations, we are very pleased with the agreement reached today with Frontier,” said Bill Henderson, president of CWA Local 1298, in a joint statement issued by the union and the company. “We believe it is in the best interests of Connecticut’s telecommunications workers and consumers.”

“We are very pleased the CWA acknowledges the transaction’s benefit to the public,” said Daniel J. McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of Frontier, in the joint statement.  “Our discussions with the CWA about the Connecticut acquisition have been open, honest and ongoing.  We look forward to a strong partnership.”

McCarthy had said on Dec. 17, when the acquisition was announced, that the company could save $200 million a year in operating costs, though he also said the union would keep the same number of members. Frontier appears to have met some of the union’s demands, and in part, the union’s anger appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of what Frontier would do — after years in which AT&T has cut or downgraded thousands of jobs in the state.

The deal is expected to close in the last quarter of this year, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission and by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which opens its hearings Thursday at its offices in New Britain.

 

Back9Network Signs Deal With DirectTV, Hiring Aggressively

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media, Telecommunications Date:

Back9Network, the startup golf lifestyle TV and online programmer, said Monday it signed a multi-year deal for a channel on DirecTV, its first television contract.

The deal means Back9 will immediately hire between 30 and 40 additional employees in downtown Hartford, adding to its existing staff of about 50, company president Carlos Silva said. The hiring has already begun.

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. Courtesy of Back9Network

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.
Courtesy of Back9Network

Back9, with offices in the Phoenix building and a studio under construction across Constitution Plaza,, also said it will open the studio in August, in time to launch the DirecTV shows in September.  Founder and CEO Jamie Bosworth had told me earlier this year that work was progressing on the $7.5 million studio at the site of the former Spris restaurant, but many people were skeptical it could thrive without a national TV contract.

Back9 has raised about $30 million including a controversial state package of $5 million, and has hired some big names, notably Ahmad Rashad as executive producer and host. Although Bosworth and others at the media company had said they could make it work with an online audience only, a national TV contract was widely seen as the sole route to success.

Rashad will host The Ahmad Rashad Show, a “behind the scenes” look at the world of golf, as one of three, half-hour shows at the core of the Back9Network programming.

Rashad, center, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.  John Woike/The Hartford Courant

Rashad, center left, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at far right at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.
John Woike/The Hartford Courant

The others are “Ball Hogs, “inside the never-before-seen world of the men and women who risk their lives diving for ‘white gold’ in ponds and lakes; and Golf Treasures, which will “follow prominent golf collectors Ryan Carey and Bob Zafian, owners of Green Jacket Auctions, as they travel the globe on a mission to hunt down and acquire the world’s rarest and most sought after golf memorabilia.”

In all, Back9 will produce about 1,100 hours of original programming in its first year, including ten original prime time series and live shows three times a day.

Terms of the DirecTV deal were not disclosed.Under the deal, as is typical in cable or satellite TV “carriage” contracts, both Back9Network and DirecTV will sell advertising for the shows. Ad sales staff is part of the current hiring, which mostly comprises production employees, Silva said.

“We’ll be evaluating more staffing as we move through the fall,” Silva said.

The company could also be eligible for additional state aid through the film and digital production tax credit program. That state assistance is not available for live shows, but much of the content on Back9 will be recorded productions.

Some productions will be done as a partnership with other companies and some will be exclusively created by Back9.  Rashad will be in Hartford, Silva said, because of his broader role as executive producer.

Among the names on Back9Network’s talent roster, Jennifer Bosworth, the wife of Jamie Bosworth and a former reporter on FOX CT, is no longer with the company, Silva said. The Courant reported previously that the Bosworths are divorcing after three years of marriage.

It remains to be seen whether this deal leads to a cable deal with one of the major carriers, including Comcast, which owns the Golf Network.  Bosworth, who testified earlier this year in Congress about the dangers of the proposed, $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, said Comcast was initially negative about signing on Back9, while Time Warner was warm to the idea — until the merger was announced.

DirecTV is seeking federal approval for its own merger with AT&T, a $49 billion deal that would catapult AT&T into a major position as a TV provider.  It’s unclear whether AT&T would pick up Back9 on its U-verse TV package if the merger were to go forward.

Bosworth had also said that the satellite providers, including DISH Network and DirecTV, did not typically roll out their own new programming. But that picture is changing as everyone from Amazon to Netflix is producing or buying exclusive content.

DirecTV will place Back9 on channel 262, near other lifestyle channels, Back9 said.

“This long-term agreement provides us with a strong initial television distribution-base and sends a clear message to the marketplace of our goal of becoming a fully-distributed lifestyle network,” Bosworth said in a written release.

Back9Network Moving Ahead With $7.5M Constitition Plaza Studio, Fox Sports Deal

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media, Real Estate, Telecommunications Date:
Artist rendering of Back9Network studio at Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. Courtesy of Back9Network

Artist rendering of Back9Network studio at Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.
Courtesy of Back9Network

A lot of people in Hartford have been skeptical about progress at Back9Network, the golf lifestyle media outlet with a flashy culture, a plan for a studio on Constitution Plaza and the goal of launching a cable TV channel.

Back9 founder and CEO James L. Bosworth Jr. had hoped to have a cable deal and a working studio on the plaza in 2013, and neither one happened, fueling fears that the capital city would once again find itself snakebitten.

But I spoke with Bosworth on the day Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced their $45 billion merger — which could greatly affect Back9 — and he had plenty of good news to report.

That studio space in the former Spris restaurant location, briefly Braza, is not only going to open, Bosworth said, but it’s more than halfway there.  Without making any announcements, the company has spent $4.5 million toward the $7.5 million total cost of the studio, starting in 2012.

The firm is now seeking approval from the city of Hartford for exterior signs and large “video boards” that need a special permit, Bosworth said, and Hartford’s development director, Thomas Deller, confirmed.

A decision will take at least two months, Deller said.

CEO James Bosworth Jr. Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

CEO James Bosworth Jr.
Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

With no city permits in hand, there’s no timetable for an opening of the 6,500-square-foot space. An artist rendering shows a sign on the outside, “Clint Eastwood Studio,” which might make sense since the iconic Hollywood star is a shareholder and adviser to Back9.  But the name on the rendering is just a visual device, Bosworth said.

What’s real, he said, is the company’s progress even without a cable deal.  Back9 is up to 43 employees at its offices and smaller studio space on the 10th floor of the Phoenix “Boat Building” across Constitution Plaza, and on the road making content about the culture and lifestyle of golf. Its web page, www.back9network.com, is up to 600,000 unique visitors a month, he said, with videos, stories, photo galleries and other features added every day.

Early next week Back9 will announce a new deal with FOXSports.com and Yardbarker, a Fox-owned blog site, in which Back9 stories and other content will appear on the Fox web sites, editors will collaborate and the companies will share advertising revenue.

Back9 would like to appeal to women, especially younger ones, not just the middle-aged men who make up the bulk of golfers. To that end, Back9 this week added reality TV star Audrina Patridge to its talent roster.

Audrina Patridge Courtesy of Back9Network

Audrina Patridge
Courtesy of Back9Network

Those two developments could give Back9 significant added exposure — and would be part of the company’s “what if” strategy of growing as an online-only platform, called “over the top” in the media industry.

The goal, of course, remains for Back9 to be a cable TV channel. And the planned buyout of Time Warner Cable by Comcast complicates matters.  The reason: Among all of the national cable TV and satellite companies in talks with Back9, Time Warner is the one that seems most excited about the channel, Bosworth said Thursday.

That does not mean a deal is near — Bosworth was adamant on that point.

“You’re never quite sure because they’re negotiations,” he said. “But outwardly, in terms of response and engagement, we’ve probably had the most momentum with Time Warner Cable.”

Comcast, by contrast, which owns the Golf Channel, told Bosworth and his team outright that it would not launch Back9.

Back9 has also had talks with DirecTV and Stamford-based Charter, among others. As Back9 builds an audience, the TV industry is starting to see the value of a network devoted to the stories and expensive lifestyles tied to golf, Bosworth said. There may only be 27 million golfers in the United States, but, he quipped, “Nobody buys a second home next to Giants Stadium.”

Bosworth rushed into the office in Thursday’s snowstorm to deal with the Comcast-Time Warner situation. He resisted the urge to call Jennifer Chun, the Time Warner Cable program acquisition chief, figuring she’d be plenty busy; they’re meeting next week anyway.

The merger announcement would seem to be more bad than good for Back9. But Bosworth sees an upside as regulators and critics eye the deal’s anticompetitive aspects.

Comcast “could be encouraged to carry alternatives to programming that they already own,” he said. “That’s a realistic scenario…And I think we could be one of the examples that they point to.”

Back9, meanwhile, remains in full compliance with the terms of its $5 million loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development — and has raised six times that amount from private investors, 60 percent of them in Connecticut, Bosworth said.

That state assistance came under some criticism when Back9 posted a lewd video in late 2013. Show host Jennifer Bosworth, Bosworth’s wife and a former reporter at Fox CT, the Courant’s partner, did a spoof of a sex question-and-answer show, in which she offered raunchy answers, not repeatable on a family blog post, or a business blog post.

Jenn Bosworth Courtesy of Back9Network

Jenn Bosworth
Courtesy of Back9Network

James Bosworth called it a “skit that didn’t go right,” and said Back9 took it down quickly. “We apologized because we didn’t like it,” he said.

I can’t excuse it readily. As Eastwood said as “Dirty Harry” Callahan in Magnum Force, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”  And so does a media outlet.

That segment was an extreme example of the wild, Hollywood style that Back9 is planting on the front yard of the buttoned-down Insurance City.  Bosworth is keenly aware of the cultural divide and insists his people work harder than anyone.

If they can deliver some zook to Hartford, great. The cable merger announcement comes at crucial time for the fledgling network and Back9′s optimistic company culture seems helpful. “I’m obviously very concerned,” Bosworth said, “But maybe it’s good for us.”

Frontier Adds Captive Insurance Office To Stamford HQ

by Categorized: Insurance, Telecommunications Date:

Frontier Communications, the Stamford-based telecom company that has a deal to buy AT&T’s wireline business in Connecticut, will locate its captive insurance unit at its Connecticut headquarters.

Captive insurance is basically a separate business with an insurance license but rather than selling coverage to the public, it takes on risk for the company that owns it.

The announcement that Frontier Services Corp. will be in Connecticut, made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, does not mean a significant number of direct new jobs. But it advances the state’s goal of attracting captive insurers, in part to help the parent companies.  A new state law enabling captive licensing was adopted in 2011 and a trade group formed.

Frontier is the state’s fourth captive insurance company.

“Giving employers the tools they need to manage their costs and re-invest in their employees and products is a commitment we have made from day one,”  Malloy said in a written statement.

Frontier, with $5 billion in annual revenue, operates in 27 states and has 200 people at its headquarters. The AT&T deal, which requires regulatory approval, would add 2,700 Connecticut employees.

 

AT&T Selling Connecticut Business To Frontier

by Categorized: Corporate finance, Telecommunications Date:

AT&T has reached a deal to sell its wireline business in Connecticut to Frontier Communications for $2 billion in cash, ending a 15-year venture that led to thousands of job losses as the number of regular phone lines declined, technology improved and the company moved support operations elsewhere.

Stamford-based Frontier, which operates in 27 states, will take over the old Southern New England Telephone Co. business, which legally still has that name. The operations include 2,700 employees, 900,000 wireline telephone connections, 415,000 Internet connections and 180,000 U-verse video subscribers for a total of $1.25 billion in annual revenues, along with the network itself and a lease at AT&T’s New Haven offices.

Frontier will use the U-verse brand name for video services, but not for its bundled voice, video and Internet, as AT&T does. And, the Frontier president said in an interview, the acquisition will not mean higher prices or deep job cuts — although it will bring changes for customers.

The merger, announced separately by both companies, would close in late 2014 after regulators’ approval. Frontier will not cut overall employment numbers among the Connecticut employees it inherits, including 2,400 members of the Communications Workers of America, said Dan McCarthy, the Frontier president and chief operating officer. But he said that jobs will change, so some disruption will happen.

For a full version of this column, go to:

http://www.courant.com/business/hc-haar-snet-att-frontier-merger-20131217,0,2065086.column