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FairPoint Wants Service Quality Rules Dropped For Most Phone Customers

Steve Zind
FairPoint says state service quality requirement put it at a competitive disadvantage.

FairPoint Communications is asking the Public Service Board to drop service quality standards it has to meet for the majority of its telephone customers. It also wants to board to consider amending standards.   

Last year the state and FairPoint agreed to end an investigation into a high number of service delays experienced by customers last winter and a 2014 failure that disabled the Emergency 9-1-1 system.

In the settlement the state said it was satisfied FairPoint had taken the necessary steps to avoid the problems in the future, and it would support the company’s request for a Public Service Board review of service quality standards. This month, FairPoint filed a petition with the board asking for the review.

FairPoint President Beth Fastiggi says there needs to be a balance between the state’s regulatory oversight and the company’s ability to compete against providers like cable and wireless companies that don’t have to meet the same service quality standards.

“What we hope to accomplish in the new petition is to determine with the board how to best measure service quality to those customers who continue to rely on FairPoint for voice service, while recognizing that in many areas of the state, FairPoint does face real and stiff competition,” Fastiggi says.

"Some of those standards have been around for a very a long time. They're very expensive and difficult to try to meet" - Beth Fastiggi of FairPoint

FairPoint wants the board to address two issues:

First, the company believes service quality standards should only apply for customers who have no alternative to FairPoint telephone service.

Second is whether the standards should be changed.

“Some of those standards have been around for a very a long time. They’re very expensive and difficult to try to meet. They’re not necessary consistent with the way companies run their businesses,” says Fastiggi.

In  particular, the company wants the board to look at alternatives to a requirement that a certain percentage of repairs must be made within 24 hours – which the company has consistently failed to meet.

The state agrees with the removal of service quality standards – except for  those customers with no alternative to FairPoint phone service, says Jim Porter, who heads the Telecommunications and Connectivity Division at the Department of Public Service.

“The most important thing will be to have service quality metrics in place that will provide meaningful protections to the customers that receive it. Whether those are the same metrics or different metrics, I just don’t know at this point,” says Porter.

As the Public Service Board considers the petition from FairPoint, there’s likely to be debate over what constitutes a good alternative to FairPoint service.

Porter says in some cases the department may not consider wireless service a viable option even where it’s available to FairPoint customers.

Still, Porter estimates as many as 80 percent of FairPoint landline customers do have other choices.

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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