National

He voted to cut internet costs. Then the broadband company he worked for fired him.

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

Mitch Carmichael, right, (R-Jackson) votes in the House chambers of the West Virginia State Capitol on the final day of the legislative session in Charleston, W.Va. Saturday, April 9, 2005.
Mitch Carmichael, right, (R-Jackson) votes in the House chambers of the West Virginia State Capitol on the final day of the legislative session in Charleston, W.Va. Saturday, April 9, 2005. AP

Being a member of the West Virginia State Senate isn’t a full-time job; according to Ballotpedia, legislators in the state receive a part-time salary of $20,000.

That means that members must often have other jobs to supplement their jobs as civil servants, and that can lead to some uncomfortable situations, as it did for Senate President Mitch Carmichael in April.

At the time, Carmichael, a Republican, and the rest of his colleagues voted on a bill that would create a pilot program allowing groups of a certain size, cities and counties to organize and provide broadband and high-speed internet access in under-served areas, according to the Register-Herald. The bill’s proponents argued it would increase competition, leading to lower prices and faster speeds for consumers.

The bill passed through the West Virginia House and Senate with overwhelming support, including Carmichael’s: The House vote was 97 to 2, the Senate vote was 31 to 1.

But the bill had been forcefully opposed by Frontier Communications, the leading provider of broadband in West Virginia. Frontier argued the bill would not help areas with no internet access but instead simply create more broadband projects in communities that already have the service, per the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

And Carmichael, who supported the bill, worked as a sales manager for Frontier at the time.

carmichael_mitch
Mitch Carmichael File

Despite his employer’s clear stance against the legislation, Carmichael said he “had to do what I felt was right” with his vote, according to West Virginia Metro News. He had previously recused himself from debate on the bill before the vote.

That vote took place April 7, and the governor signed the bill into law on April 26, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Exactly a month later, Carmichael was laid off from his Frontier job.

Carmichael told Metro News it was an outcome he had predicted at the time he cast his vote in favor of the bill.

“I kind of had an emotion when we cast that bill,” he told the outlet. “In fact, I even told some of my colleagues, I said, ‘I bet you that cost me my job.’”

Frontier denied that Carmichael’s firing was in retaliation for his opposition to their stance.

“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 Technica. “Beyond this, Frontier will decline further comment, as is our company policy regarding personnel matters.”

Ars Technica also notes that Frontier’s stock has plummeted over the past year. However, Carmichael’s departure comes just 10 months after Frontier gave him a pay raise to lure him back from a competitor, he told the Gazette-Mail.

In the past, Carmichael has spoken out on the Senate floor against legislation Frontier was also against, including the creation of a state-owned broadband provider, the Gazette-Mail reports. However, in the most recent vote, he told the paper, he felt that his constituents’ preference was clear.

“As Senate president, my role is to facilitate the will of the members and advance good public policy,” he told the Gazette-Mail. “The (legislators) wanted it, and the public wanted it.”

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