Regulators give FairPoint one month to make case for continued operation

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(Host) Vermont regulators have given FairPoint Communications a month to make its case for continued operation despite continued service quality issues.

The hearing on Monday was FairPoint’s first chance to respond to a legal challenge that could result in the phone company losing its license to operate in Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state Department of Public Service – which represents ratepayers – stepped up the pressure on FairPoint last month. With a petition filed with the Public Service Board, the department took the first step to challenge FairPoint’s right to operate in Vermont.

Jim Porter is a lawyer with the department.

(Porter) "If FairPoint cannot raise its service quality to an acceptable level, it’s our opinion that we’ve got to look at whether they should be operating the incumbent phone company here. It’s just – there are an enormous amount of problems for an extraordinary amount of people."

(Dillon) FairPoint took over Verizon’s land line phone business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in February.

But the transition has been rocky. Tamera Pariseau is the consumer affairs coordinator with the Department of Public Service. She recited the litany of common FairPoint complaints.

(Pariseau) "Billing errors that are ongoing for months at a time. We’re hearing about consumers having a difficult time to get service installed. As matter of fact, just recently dealing with an elderly couple – medical issues – and they’re going on four weeks waiting for their service to be installed. So those are the issues we’re hearing about." 

(Dillon) FairPoint President Peter Nixon said the company has made improvements in many areas but still needs to improve quality control. He said about 1 percent of all bills are in error.

(Nixon) "Most today of the consumer bill issues are what I would call self-inflicted. These are long-distance calls that are intrastate being rated interstate, calls that are rated correctly but with the wrong destination city on it."

(Dillon) And Nixon said the company has reduced the number of complaints that get referred to the state.

(Nixon) "So from the customer’s perspective, as we take a look at the customer’s experience, what this tells me that predominately most aspects of the business are back to pre-cutover levels."

(Dillon) FairPoint says they only have about 150 complaints from Vermont that are outstanding. But Pariseau – the state’s consumer affairs coordinator – told the Public Service Board that the state still has about 500 unresolved consumer complaints.

(Pariseau) "And the list of complaints they say were closed, many of those were not closed. We had not received the information that we had requested. Consumer did not have service, or did not have the billing issue addressed. So those were not closed. And the complaints that FairPoint said they had not received, in many instances we had submitted a complaint to FairPoint and FairPoint had actually provided a response to us. So I’m not sure where those FairPoint’s complaints were at FairPoint’s side, if they had just dropped off or what had happend to those."    

(Dillon) Nixon offered to have FairPoint officials meet with the state to get to the bottom of the specific complaints.  

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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