FairPoint seeks 5-year extension of Vermont regulation oversight relief

FairPoint Communications wants a five-year extension on a Vermont incentive regulation plan that went into effect in 2012.

Under the current Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) plan, FairPoint is free to raise prices on other services but agreed to cap basic landline service increases at 11 percent or $2 a year--whichever is lower--because Vermont wanted to make sure basic landline service remained affordable. Additionally, the plan enforced service quality metrics that are more stringent that the more generic standards other regulated carriers must meet.

FairPoint's record in meeting those metrics was mixed. For instance, the deal required FairPoint to settle 60 to 70 percent of repairs to residential phone lines within 24 hours. In the most recent quarter, FairPoint scored only 20 percent. The 12-month average was 43 percent, according to a Vermont Public Radio (VPR) report. FairPoint did better in the business space, clearing up problems at a 94 percent rate.

The company has agreed to improve service times and to prioritize repairs for those who only have landline service. It would like, however, to meet generic service quality metrics in the future while agreeing to continue to meet price increase limits.

In other FairPoint news, a combination of an ongoing strike and bad weather has caused an uptick in the number of customer complaints in Maine, the Bangor Daily News reports.

While more than in the past, the number of complaints is not considered very high, Maine Public Utilities Commission spokesman Harry Lamphear told the newspaper.

"The number of calls related to FairPoint have gone up, but it's not a huge number," he said. "We take hundreds of calls about utilities each week."

A Nov. 2 snowstorm is responsible for some of the complaints but others trace back to a four-week-old strike by CWA and IBEW workers. Maine public advocate Tim Schneider said that before the strike, his office got about five complaint calls a month; now it gets three to five a day.

"We are very, very concerned about FairPoint's ability to restore service post storm," Schneider said. "It doesn't bode well for the winter."

FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry conceded that the telco had received a higher level of complaints since the strike began and that the call service center and technical response crews have been affected by the strike. "Our customer call center was overloaded," she told the newspaper.

For more:
- see this VPR story and this story
- the Bangor Daily News has this story

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