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State Warns FairPoint As Customer Complaints Increase

VPR/Steve Zind
The state says FairPoint must shorten the length of time it takes to perform telephone repairs.

The Vermont Public Service Department is warning FairPoint Communications to reduce the number of customer complaints or face an investigation.

The department is concerned about interruptions in telephone service and the time it takes to repair problems.

The problem is not new.

Telecommunications Director Jim Porter says FairPoint has consistently failed to satisfy repair standards that Vermont’s other landline companies routinely meet.

“These are really fairly low baseline standards that all of the phone companies meet quarter after quarter and FairPoint continues to have an issue,  certainly with one metric," says Porter.

"These are really fairly low baseline standards that all of the phone companies meet quarter after quarter and FairPoint continues to have an issue." - Telecommunications Director Jim Porter

The key metric requires companies to make repairs within 24 hours after a loss of telephone service has been reported. It does not apply to Internet service.

Porter says FairPoint has been averaging five to seven days for repairs. Over the summer the number of complaints increased.

From May 1 through Oct. 31, the department received nearly 200 complaints about telephone service, largely concerning repairs but also regarding service hookup and billing issues.

In September and October Porter wrote the company asking to meet with representatives and requesting an explanation for the cause of the delays. The second letter also cited complaints from FairPoint customers about an increase in wait times in calls to service representatives as a result of the strike of the company’s unionized workers on Oct. 17.

Porter says that since the strike the department has also seen a further spike in complaints about long repair times.

Porter says FairPoint has complied with his requests for information.  

“They’ve responded as we asked them,” he says. “The proof will be when the numbers come within the guidelines where they should be and to date we have not seen that happen.”

Porter has told FairPoint that unless it improves its repair delays, the department will ask the quasi-judicial Public Service Board to open an investigation.

“We are addressing their concerns and we take them very seriously,” says FairPoint spokesperson Angelynne Beaudry.

Beaudry says the recent spike in complaints is being addressed as the company implements contingency plans in the wake of the strike.

“As we ramp up and continue to move forward with our contingency plan, wait times will be shortened, customer questions will be responded to in a much more acceptable time,” she says. "We thank our customers for the patience."

The state says because a significant percentage of Vermonters have no option but FairPoint for land line service, it’s critical that it resolve  loss of service and repair delay issues.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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