Lawmakers want latest technology for broadband expansion

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(Host) The company that’s acquiring Verizon’s phone lines in Vermont says it’s committed to an aggressive build-out of broadband Internet services.

But lawmakers have many questions. They want to make sure that Fairpoint Communications uses the latest technology, and that it has the financial resources to deliver.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Right now, Fairpoint Communications is a relatively small company based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

But this little fish in the telecom sea is about to swallow much bigger game. Fairpoint plans to acquire Verizon’s phone line business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

A key question for lawmakers is whether the deal is good for consumers who now lack broadband Internet services.

Verizon has committed to bringing high-speed internet access to 80% of its Vermont customers by 2010. Walter Leach, a Fairpoint vice president, told a Senate committee that his company will do more.

(Leach) “That’s what you’re expecting already so we will be doing something meaningfully better than that as a commitment to the Public Service Commission and the regulatory approval process.”

(Dillon) Leach said Fairpoint’s track record is already better than Verizon’s. He said the company has put in more fiber optic lines and has a higher percentage of customers using broadband.

(Leach) “Fairpoint has the will to put more high-speed data out further into the network. They’ve demonstrated that by the facts.”

(Dillon) But Leach didn’t want to tell the committee how much Fairpoint will spend on broadband that the final figure has to be negotiated with utility regulators.

(Leach) “It’s a number we need to mutually work out with the three states regulatory commissions.”

(Dillon) But several members of the Senate economic Development Committee questioned whether the small company will have the financial resources to invest in the broadband technology.

And they wanted to know whether the type of Internet service that Fairpoint will provide – digital subscriber lines, or DSL, represents the latest and fastest technology. DSL can be slower than other cable or fiber optic broadband services.

Senator Doug Racine is a Chittenden County Democrat. He says Fairpoint will bring DSL to areas of the state that now don’t have any broadband service.

(Racine) “But we’ve also heard testimony in other areas that suggest that the standard DSL service is good, but it’s not going to be the best. And we’re looking in Vermont to try to have the best. And again the question is who’s going to provide that for us.”

(Dillon) Essex Orleans Senator Vince Illuzzi chairs the committee. He wants to know if Fairpoint has enough money to invest in new broadband.

(Illuzzi) “The fact that Fairpoint is willing to step up to the plate and make the purchase is good. The question that remains is whether it will be able to afford to invest the sums necessary to bring the system up to what we expect in this day and age.”

(Dillon) Walter Leach, the Fairpoint vice president, said his company would be open to a public-private partnership to provide coverage everywhere in Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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