FairPoint e-mail switch riles thousands

Posted Feb. 02, 2009, at 9:07 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Thousands of FairPoint Communications customers lost e-mail service over the weekend due to technical issues just hours after FairPoint took over Verizon Communications’ telephone and Internet service in northern New England.

Others just didn’t realize they needed to update their accounts, FairPoint spokesman Jeff Nevins said on Monday

“This is only an issue for those with Verizon.net e-mail,” he said. “People with Verzion.net e-mail accounts must switch over their e-mails to Myfairpoint.net. That is where some technical problems are taking place. We’ve had some people with problems.”

FairPoint began on Friday its week-long process of switching from Verizon Communications to FairPoint-owned equipment — the final step in the sale — which involves shutting down Verizon’s 600 computer systems that served northern New England and transferring the data to FairPoint’s new network of 60 computer systems.

FairPoint has approximately 1.6 million customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and around 285,000 of those have e-mails accounts.

Since the switchover began on Friday, FairPoint was inundated with calls from customers having problems over the weekend and on Monday.

“We had anticipated 3,000 to 4,000 calls per day, and the calls have been double that,” Nevins said.

Some customers couldn’t set up new accounts, others had long wait times to get help, which frustrated them, Nevins said. That’s why the company on Monday added 80 personnel to the customer service center.

“It’s a three-step process,” he said. “If everything works the way it should, it’s an easy process.”

Once the switch is made, customers have the same log-on and passwords, and their settings should remain the same, he said.

If customers are having problems they can call the 24-7 help line at 1-800-240-5019 or “people can go online, to fairpoint.com, and use the chat option,” Nevins said.

Many customers may have discarded information placed in their bills about how to make the change, he said.

“Instructions went out in the mail,” Nevins said. “People need to go through the steps – one, two, three.”

The customer service reps are walking people through the steps.

“It takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk someone through it,” Nevins said, adding, “We’re going to keep those additional 80 people on until we work through the calls.”

He did not know how many customers lost e-mail service, but call volumes had diminished by Monday afternoon.

“We’re working through the issues on our end,” Nevins said.

FairPoint last year paid $2.3 billion for Verizon’s land lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Before Friday’s switch, FairPoint was leasing Verizon’s equipment.

“Monday morning, a week from today, we start up the system and we’re on our own,” Nevins said. “This completes the process of the acquisition. At that point, we will be completed and totally independent of Verzion.”

During the transition process, FairPoint has experienced a number of bumps along the way.

Equipment malfunctions and human error led to several 911-system glitches that left people unable to reach a 911 operator, and the date when FairPoint was to take control of the entire network was delayed twice because of technical concerns.

Richard Davies, Maine’s public advocate, said his office received only a couple of calls on the e-mail problems.

The impact will vary by customer depending on how often they use the e-mail service, he said.

“It’s really going to vary person to person, but if it affects even one person significantly, that’s reason for that person to be concerned,” he said.

Nevins said the rest of the system switchover appeared to be going smoothly.

BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.

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