Frontier Hires Former FCC Commissioner Abernathy

Frontier Communications Corp. (FTR), on the verge of becoming the largest rural telco in the United States, has hired a former FCC commissioner as its new chief legal officer and executive vice president of regulatory and government affairs.

Kathleen Abernathy, who served on the FCC from 2001 to 2005, last week resigned from Frontier’s board of directors – where she had served since April 2006 – to take the executive job. She will leave the Washington, D.C.-based communications law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer, where she is a partner, to join Frontier on March 1.

At the FCC, Abernathy worked under chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin and was part of the agency’s Republican majority during most of those years. During her tenure, she tended to favor less government oversight of the communications industry. For example, she was skeptical of state jurisdiction over VoIP services and supported wholesale rate deregulation, with some exceptions.

Abernathy will report to Frontier Chairman and CEO Maggie Wilderotter.

“Frontier is in the process of a transformational transaction with Verizon Communications that will triple the size of the company and demands top-tier executive management,” Wilderotter said in a prepared statement. “With Kathleen’s appointment, we are assured of having on-board seasoned talent that will help guide the new Frontier.”

Frontier soon will mushroom in size thanks to the $8.6 billion purchase last year of 4.8 million Verizon access lines in 14 states. The deal has met with resistance from unions and lawmakers. Many fear job losses and operations snafus, such as the back-office troubles that led to rival FairPoint Communications’ recent bankruptcy.

But Frontier executives and shareholders continue to support the deal, which is slated to close in the second quarter. Wilderotter has called the transaction “a fantastic platform for growth” because of its scale and the impact on Frontier’s balance sheet. She has said the company’s finances will approach “investment grade” due to the Verizon landline acquisitions.

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