On the heels of a bankruptcy that wiped out billions of dollars owed to creditors, a new regulatory filing reveals Frontier Communications estimates it paid its new executive chairman $48.5 million in 2021 — the highest total disclosed this year by a publicly traded company based in Connecticut.

Frontier operates the historic southern New England telephone network that dates back to the earliest days of the telephone, with its eastern operations center in New Haven where SNET was based.

In 2016, the company absorbed massive debt to take over territories from Verizon in California, Florida and Texas, which never produced enough profits to prevent Frontier from missing repayment schedules with lenders, leading to bankruptcy. in April 2020.

Frontier maintained normal service during its bankruptcy, while making Connecticut one of its first states to upgrade to fiber-optic broadband, which it is currently rolling out statewide. After ditching broadband territories in four northwestern states through a sale, the company now operates a patchwork of territories in 25 states, entering this year with 15,600 employees.

Frontier’s revenue totaled $6.4 billion in 2021, down 10% from the prior year. Excluding a $4.5 billion gain that included debt elimination, in the last eight months of last year Frontier posted $414 million in profit, reversing a $404 million loss in 2020. The company continues to have a significant debt of $7.7 billion.

While Frontier has pledged to keep its headquarters in Norwalk through February 2023 as a condition for Connecticut regulators to approve its bankruptcy restructuring, the company in January leased nearly 100,000 square feet of office space to Dallas where CEO Nick Jeffery lives.

Frontier installed Jeffery as CEO a year after he filed for bankruptcy, paying the former Vodafone executive $17 million for his first nine months at the helm of Frontier. That’s more than his predecessor Dan McCarthy racked up in his first four years as the company’s CEO. McCarthy resigned months before the 2020 filing for bankruptcy.

In his role as executive chairman, John Stratton has earned far more than Jeffery at $48.5 million, according to a company filing this week with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, largely in the form of awards of shares which could result in a different final tally depending on the price of the shares when cashing out. Stratton’s total compensation was more than double that paid last year to the CEO of Verizon Communications, where Stratton worked for 25 years before stepping down in 2018.

In a conference call in February, Stratton said Frontier had “integrated a pay-for-performance philosophy” into the company’s executive compensation program. From just under $27 in May 2021 when Frontier launched a new stock market listing on emerging from bankruptcy, the company’s shares traded Thursday morning at just over $29, a gain of 7% even as shares fell for several rival broadband operators.

In recent years, there has been a growing investor backlash against big CEO pay, resulting in initiatives such as ‘say on pay’ in which investors can pressure boards to they reduce remuneration; and a requirement for companies to report how much more CEOs earn than workers at the median of their payroll.

Frontier spokeswoman Erin Kurtz said this week that the company’s board of directors felt the CEO and executive chairman packages were needed to secure the best possible talent to pull it out of bankruptcy.

Frontier shareholders will have the opportunity to weigh in on the 2021 compensation packages at an annual meeting to be held online on May 17.

A spokesperson for the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, William Tong, declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation into Frontier’s customer service announced in April 2020 after more than 1,000 customers filed complaints.

Speaking on a conference call in February, Jeffery discussed Frontier’s nationwide efforts to improve customer service.

“We’ve implemented hundreds, if not thousands, of operational changes to improve the customer experience,” Jeffery said in February. “The mark is repairable – and indeed repairs quite quickly.”

Frontier is currently updating its offering in Connecticut by stringing fiber optic cable directly to customers for 2 gigabit broadband service. The company uses a mix of out-of-state staff and outside contractors to install these lines, according to the head of a Frontier union in Connecticut.

Workers voted to ratify a new contract in February that increases salary by 9 percent over the three years of the contract. In its annual proxy statement to investors on Monday, Frontier said its median employee earned $80,500 nationwide last year.

“The level of corporate greed in this country is no secret,” said Dave Weidlich, president of the Hamden-based Communications Workers of America Local 1298. “They’re doing a fiber-to-the-home build in Connecticut, and that’s good news for us. These people they brought in knew something about how to build a business – rather than the previous group of people who knew a lot about destroying a business.

Big paydays aren’t new to the broadband industry – at Stamford, Charter Communications paid CEO Tom Rutledge $41.9 million in compensation last year, even as he recommitted to the city term with a new headquarters complex.

Altice USA, the New York-based company that is also rolling out gigabit fiber service in Connecticut, awarded its CEO Dexter Goei $48 million in the first year of the pandemic. It was one of the 20 biggest US compensation packages of 2020, as tracked by the AFL-CIO.

As with Frontier, Optimum is under intense scrutiny in Connecticut after PURA launched a review late last year. More than 600 customers complained about missed service calls, call center wait times and other issues.

Includes earlier reports by Paul Schott and Luther Turmelle.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman