Frontier Communications (NASDAQ:FTR) saw its stock get battered in 2015, dropping from a Feb. 17 high close of $8.42 to closing Dec. 13 near its yearly low at $4.57.
That's a nearly 50% cut in value for a company that got a whole lot bigger at the end of 2014, when it completed its purchase of AT&T's (NYSE:T) former landline/broadband/pay television service in Connecticut. That deal, which closed in October 2014, got off to a rocky start and may have set the tone for Frontier's year.
Since the company took over those Connecticut customers, there have been more than 900 complaints filed with Connecticut's Department of Consumer Protection, 200 with the state attorney general's office, and 240 with the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), according to The Hartford Courant. "PURA has received more quality-of-service complaints about Frontier (124) in little more than a month than the combined totals this year of every cable provider in the state," the paper wrote.
That was a very rough start that slowed down the company's full-court press to expand in the state. It's simply hard to add customers, even with aggressive pricing, when the ones you took over servicing are very angry.
"Our complaint level has dropped off," Elin Katz, the state's consumer counsel, told the paper, "but the complaints that do come in are very angry and say that many other people are frustrated."
It was a rough way for Frontier to start the year, and on a stock price basis, 2015 was not kind to the company. Still, there was some good news, which could lay the groundwork for a turnaround in 2016.
Here's a look at the company's top headlines from 2015.
Frontier continues growing
Despite its initial woes in Connecticut, Frontier continued its strategy of buying customers from its rivals. In February it announced that it has reached a deal with Verizon (NYSE:VZ) to acquire Verizon's wireline operations in California, Florida, and Texas, for $10.54 billion in cash. Acquiring these properties gave Frontier 3.7 million new voice customers, 2.2 million broadband subscribers, and 1.2 million FIOS pay-television customers.
The deal received its final regulatory approval in December and is expected to close in early 2016.
"This transaction marks a natural evolution for our company and leverages our proven skills and established track record from previous integrations," said then-CEO Maggie Wilderotter. "These properties are a great fit for Frontier and will strengthen our presence in competitive suburban markets and accelerate our recent market share gains. We look forward to realizing the benefits this transaction will bring to our shareholders, customers and employees."
The move, assuming it's approved, roughly doubles Frontier's size and gives it properties that generated more than $5.7 billion in 2014 revenue. Frontier also expects to be able to reduce costs in operating the system, since it has a lower cost structure than Verizon.
The company had an orderly CEO transition
Changing CEOs can send a company into disarray, but Frontier avoided that problem when it replaced long-term boss Wilderotter with President and COO Daniel J. McCarthy. That was partly because the transition was planned and not due to a firing or other unexpected change. It also helped that Wilderotter, who led the company for over a decade, stuck around in a newly created role as executive chairman.
McCarthy joined Frontier in 1990 and assumed the president and COO jobs in 2012. He led the team that negotiated the deal to buy the Verizon properties discussed earlier.
The change was a textbook example of how a company should plan and execute CEO changes, which board member Howard Schrott acknowledged in a statement in the press release announcing the move.
"Today's announcement is the result of the board's ongoing succession planning process, which took on special emphasis several years ago when Maggie first discussed her plans with us.," he said. "In Dan McCarthy the board has found the person best qualified to drive Frontier forward."
Frontier tries "price for life"
When you're a relatively small player competing against giants, you need to make an effort to stand out. Frontier did that in November, when it announced "Price for Life," a limited-time promotion that let small business customers lock in what they pay for high-speed Internet and phone service forever.
"Small-business owners deal with surprises daily, but unexpected rate increases for Internet and phone services don't have to be among them," said Frontier Marketing VP Cory Jones in a press release. "Price for Life gives small-business owners 'budget certainty' that their pricing for fast and reliable Internet and phone service will remain the same next month, next year, and for so long as they are a Frontier customer."
The limited-time offer, which was a shot at cable companies, garnered the company plenty of positive media attention.
Moving into 2016
Frontier is growing, and it's laying the groundwork to improve on its poor 2015. Deals such as Price for Life, while only a small number customers may use them, could be the key to a turnaround.
As we've seen with T-Mobile in the wireless space, sometimes the little guy needs to kick the big boys repeatedly in the shins to gain attention. Frontier is doing a bit of that while also continuing to buy new customers. It's possible that will be a recipe for a much better 2016.