(Host) FairPoint Communications has been put on notice that it could lose its license to operate in Vermont.
State officials say the legal proceeding they filed Tuesday asks FairPoint to show what it’s done to fix repeated service problems.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) FairPoint has struggled with a host of billing problems and service quality issues in the months since it took over Verizon’s northern New England landline business.
The company says it’s made improvements. But state officials are questioning FairPoint’s ability to turn things around.
James Porter is a lawyer with the Department of Public Service, which represents consumers in utility cases.
(Porter) We believe that today after multiple, multiple opportunities that this company is not providing an acceptable service. Homeowners and business owners should not have to be concerned about whether the telephone works, or whether they can get a telephone order.
(Dillon) The department has asked the Public Service Board to open an investigation into the service problems. Officials also want the board to force FairPoint to show why its license to operate in Vermont should not be revoked.
Tamara Pariseau is the department’s consumer affairs director. She said her office received 306 complaints in June, and another 129 through July 10th. One common issue involves billing errors.
(Pariseau) Consumers continue, after they terminated service, they continue to receive bills for months. And FairPoint response is that’s not a known billing error.
(Dillon) Pariseau said FairPoint promised to pay a $5 dollar credit to customers for billing errors. Yet she says her office has not found one case in which the credit has been paid.
She said that sometimes FairPoint appears to resolve an issue, but then the problem resurfaces.
(Pariseau) We call them our zombie cases. And we’ve always had zombie cases, but not to the extent that we have now.
(Dillon) Jeff Allen is FairPoint’s vice president for external affairs. He said the company will continue to work on improvements, regardless of any legal action the state takes.
(Allen) I think we’re in agreement with the department as well as the consultants that there is more work to be done. And with our without the petition from the department, the action that we would take would be identical. Our focus is on delivering an exceptional customer experience to our customers. Although we’ve improved we’re not doing that today, and to accomplish that we need to improve the systems and that’s what we’re all about doing.
(Dillon) The state has stepped up the pressure on FairPoint just as the company is trying to restructure its debt and avoid bankruptcy.
James Porter, the state’s lawyer, acknowledged the challenges facing the company.
(Porter) The department is acutely aware that this is a delicate time financially for FairPoint. At the same time it is the department’s belief that this is a delicate financial time for a great many Vermonters.
(Dillon) Porter said small businesses have been particularly hurt by FairPoint’s problems, as companies have waited weeks or months to get phone service.
It’s unclear what would happen if regulators actually revoked FairPoint’s license to operate in the state. Officials say their petition is designed to force FairPoint to improve service.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.