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FairPoint Refund Policy Is A Significant Issue, State Says

Steve Zind
The Public Service Board is trying to determine how many FairPoint Communiciations customers did not receive credits for repair delays prior to July 2014, and some are questioning why the department has not addressed the company's policy until now.

The Public Service Department is asking FairPoint Communications to provide more information in an effort to determine how many customers did not receive bill credits for telephone repair delays.

The department contends FairPoint failed to provide more than 10,000 customers with the credits for delays from July through December, 2014. The state wants to determine if many more are also due credits for service delays experienced prior to July 2014.  

Another issue being raised is why the department has not questioned the company’s policy before now.  

In December, the department asked the quasi-judicial Public Service Board to open an inquiry into FairPoint’s service problems. In making the request, the department cited a high number of residential telephone repair delays and a November disruption of the state’s Emergency 911 system.  

The documents filed with the board make no mention of the company’s credit policy for repair delays.  

It was the board itself that brought up the issue, when, in February, members questioned FairPoint representatives about the company’s policy. 

Based on the answers, it appears FairPoint does not automatically credit a telephone customer when it knows a repair has taken more than 24 hours to complete. The automatic credit is required under a PSB rule. FairPoint indicated that to receive the credit, a customer must make a follow up call after reporting a problem.

The company provided data which the department says shows 10,611 customers failed to receive credit for repair delays during the last six months of 2014.

The period includes several months when the number of delays was unusually high.

“Until we received the responses from FairPoint in the current service quality docket as to how many credits they had issued, we did not understand that there was a problem, certainly a problem that appears to be a large magnitude,"  says State Telecommunications Director Jim Porter.

But in comments posted to VPR’s website, Tamera Pariseau, the former head of the department’s Consumer Affairs Division, says as far back as three years ago she brought the issue to Porter’s attention.

“When I attempted to bring the matter to the attention of the Commissioner, Jim [Porter] would dismiss the issue by questioning how many complaints we had received about the matter,” Pariseau wrote. “It wasn't about the number of complaints, it was about the acknowledged practice that was in violation of PSB Rules.”

Pariseau says she advocated bringing the bill credits and other service quality issues to the Public Service Board prior to 2014.

Reached by telephone, she declined to comment further, but said she stands by her comment.

Asked to respond, Porter said he has no recollection of FairPoint’s credit policy being raised as an issue prior to the PSB proceedings.

“The issue of whether people were actually receiving bill credits never came up because no one thought that they weren’t getting the bill credits,” he says.

Porter says in October, 2013  Pariseau submitted a list of FairPoint service quality concerns to Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia.

He says the company’s bill credit policy was not on the list, nor, until now, has any documentation been produced to indicate the policy might be in violation of a board rule.

FairPoint began operating under the standard that includes the rule requiring automatic credits in April of 2013. 

According to the Public Service Department, there were nearly 20,000 instances of repair delays from April 2013 to June 2014. 

In order to determine how many customers may have failed to receive bill credits, the department is now requesting that FairPoint provide information on the credits given during that period.

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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