FairPoint appoints exec to fix problems

Posted July 15, 2009, at 10:58 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Under growing pressure from regulators, FairPoint Communications Inc. is making organizational changes, including the appointment of a high-level transition chief to address operational problems in northern New England, the company said Wednesday.

Chairman and CEO David Hauser said he has appointed Vicky Weatherwax to the new position of vice president of business solutions.

Weatherwax will be responsible for developing a “plan of action” to address customer service, billing and other systems problems that have plagued the company for nearly six months. Her job is to get to the bottom of the problems and fix them quickly, Hauser said.

“If I was going to focus on anything, it’s a sense of urgency to get operations where the customer says we’re doing a great job,” Hauser told The Associated Press.

FairPoint, based in Charlotte, N.C., owns and operates 32 phone companies in 18 states with a total of 1.7 million lines. Most of them are in northern New England, where last year it bought Verizon’s landline telephone and Internet operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for $2.3 billion.

Billing, customer service, order fulfillment and other problems began last winter when FairPoint rolled out its own back-office computer systems.

Problems have persisted despite efforts to address them. The organizational changes announced Wednesday should help, Hauser said.

In other changes, Executive Vice President Jeff Allen will oversee all northern New England operations. President Peter Nixon will focus on external operations in northern New England and be in charge of all operations at FairPoint’s other properties outside of the region.

The changes were announced a day after the Vermont Department of Public Service called for an investigation into whether FairPoint should be allowed to continue to operate in Vermont if it doesn’t fix its operational problems.

FairPoint executives are scheduled to appear today before the Maine Public Utilities Commission to discuss progress in resolving the problems.

Rather than fix problems piecemeal, the company needs to take a look at its systems as a whole, said Richard Davies, Maine’s public advocate. Having a designated person take command of the process could help, he said.

“If in fact that person is going to get down to ‘let’s identify what the cause of the problems [is] and let’s find out who’s responsible for fixing them and let’s get them fixed,’ I think that’s a very good development,” Davies said. “But if it’s done simply to create the impression that they’re working on it and it doesn’t do any more than that, that’s not an improvement. We hope it’s the former.”

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