The West Virginia Public Service Commission is taking steps to revoke a key regulatory approval held by ClearFiber, in the wake of a Mountain State Spotlight investigation into the Morgantown-based internet company.
In a document filed on the same day the investigation was published, staff from the PSC’s Utilities Division recommended the commission revoke ClearFiber’s certificate of convenience and necessity. According to the recommendation, the company’s contact information was no longer working, it had not filed an annual report with the PSC for the last three years and it was listed as “not in compliance” on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website.
The Mountain State Spotlight investigation found dozens of Morgantown-area residents who said the company took money from them without permission. Further reporting showed that allegations against Chad Henson, the owner of the company that publicly goes by ClearFiber, went beyond billing problems. His companies have also been accused of property damage and not paying their bills.
Henson’s companies had previously been the subject of similar accusations in the Mid-Ohio Valley. But when he came to Morgantown in 2016, he easily obtained a certificate of convenience and necessity from the PSC. Back then, this certificate was required to install broadband along the nearly 90% of West Virginia public roads that are owned by the state.
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PSC Administrative Law Judge Matthew Minney was given the opportunity to scrutinize Henson during an evidentiary hearing. But he never asked about a joint investigation into Henson’s old companies or other allegations of wrongdoing against them, although they had already been reported on by newspapers and mentioned to a Morgantown city council member. Minney also never pressed Henson to elaborate on the sparse management biography submitted in his certificate application — a biography that never mentioned by name a single company where Henson previously worked.
Still, the PSC declared that ClearFiber demonstrated “the technical, financial and managerial fitness” needed to provide the proposed services.
It’s unclear the effect it will have on ClearFiber if the PSC revokes the company’s certificate. State lawmakers passed legislation in 2018 that removed the requirement that companies obtain the certificate to install broadband along state-owned roads.
An email to ClearFiber for comment wasn’t returned, and PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane declined an interview request.
If ClearFiber responds to the PSC the next steps in the process could include a hearing, testimony, briefs and a final order. The burden would be on ClearFiber to demonstrate that it has provided and is providing adequate service.
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