Frontier Communications Corp.

FTRCQ 0.63%

named John Stratton as its executive chairman, tapping a longtime telecom operator to lead the internet provider as it looks to win back customers’ trust after bankruptcy.

The former

Verizon Communications Inc.

VZ -0.21%

executive’s appointment signals Frontier’s ambitions to keep growing if federal and state regulators approve its reorganization plan. A federal judge last month approved a plan that could move the business out of bankruptcy by early 2021.

Frontier filed for bankruptcy protection in April to implement a prearranged $10 billion debt-cutting proposal backed by bondholders. Those bondholders named Mr. Stratton a board observer in May and picked him for the executive chairman seat. The appointment is expected to become effective once the Norwalk, Conn., company completes its trip through bankruptcy.

Frontier’s reputation among customers has suffered in recent years as its network of digital subscriber lines failed to deliver the data rates broadband customers have come to expect. The company serves about 3 million internet customers in 25 states, a legacy of its creation from the remnants of several smaller local phone companies.

Frontier spent the past decade buying and building new fiber-optic cables in areas not served by rivals like

AT&T Inc.,

T -0.57%

CenturyLink Inc.

CTL -0.09%

and Verizon. Those high-speed lines attracted some new business, but high fees and poor customer service drove many potential customers toward its cable-TV competitors.

“The business is challenged by a brand that has been under fire because of some of those failings,” Mr. Stratton, 59 years old, said. “We can do better.”

Mr. Stratton knows Frontier’s assets well. He was Verizon’s president of operations in 2016, when the company sold millions of fiber-optic broadband accounts to Frontier. The hail-Mary play helped modernize some of Frontier’s network but added to a debt load that was already becoming unmanageable.

The former Verizon executive said Frontier has a better opportunity to gain new customers now that TV bundles—cable providers’ strong suit—matter less to customers than broadband. The wave of households cutting the pay-TV cord has already prompted cable-TV companies to offer more pure-play internet lines. Frontier continues to market many of its fiber-optic lines under the Fios brand inherited in some regions from Verizon.

As many schools around the country start the year virtually, residents in rural communities like those in West Virginia are asking why they don’t have reliable Internet service. The recent bankruptcy of Frontier Communications provides insight into how U.S. broadband policies have fallen short for many Americans. Photo Illustration: Carlos Waters/ Video: Jake Nicol/​WSJ

Frontier Chief Executive Bernard Han, a former

Dish Network Corp.

DISH -0.76%

executive, will continue to oversee its day-to-day operations. Its top five executives collected nearly $12 million in bonuses months before the bankruptcy, then won court approval of another $12 million bonus plan during the bankruptcy.

Frontier’s chapter 11 plan set aside up to 6% of the postbankruptcy equity for management incentives, a slice of the company that bankruptcy advisers estimated could be worth about $199 million.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at [email protected]

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Appeared in the September 2, 2020, print edition as ‘Frontier Communications Appoints Executive Chairman.’

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