There is good reason to believe FairPoint Communications has been diligently working to fix problems that have plagued its takeover of telephone service in northern New England. Still, months after the transfer, too many problems remain. This is why a request from the Maine Office of the Public Advocate to have an independent expert review the troublesome computer systems and recommend improvements is timely. Whether the expert is chosen by state or company officials, another review of the problems — with an eye toward solving them — simply makes sense.
Consumer advocates in New Hampshire and Vermont, where FairPoint also took over land line telephone service from Verizon earlier this year, have asked for similar reviews. The Maine Public Utilities Commission may consider the public advocate’s request today when it holds special deliberations on FairPoint’s request to waive $845,000 in fines. The money is owed to small, independent telephone companies that rely on lines owned by FairPoint.
Because FairPoint essentially has a monopoly when it comes to land line phone service in Maine, it must meet benchmarks for service — something it has yet to do. Fines, a corrective action plan and additional manpower have yet to ensure those benchmarks are met, so outside help appears neces-sary.
Shortly after FairPoint became the state’s primary telephone company in February, it appeared the small company was overwhelmed. Call volumes to its service centers nearly tripled, leading to long waits to speak to a person, let alone get telephone and Internet problems fixed. There were also problems with billing and orders for new service.
As a result, the company filed a plan with regulators in the three states in March that outlined how FairPoint planned to get back to “business as usual.” This was supposed to happen by June 30.
It hasn’t, which is where the public advocate’s latest filing comes in.
FairPoint has much incentive to fix the problems on its own — it has lost thousands of customers since the transition. Lost customers equal lost revenue, something FairPoint, which recently restructured its debt, can’t afford.
The company previously hired Arcient Inc., a California company that specializes in telecommunications systems, to look at some problematic FairPoint systems. The company is preparing to bring back Arcient or another company to focus on order flow systems, where the majority of current problems are centered.
FairPoint last week appointed a vice president to lead a team working on system integration issues, which shows the company is taking its problems seriously, if progress is too slow.
These are the types of problems that the company and regulators should have anticipated and been prepared for, especially because FairPoint and Verizon have records of customer service problems in Maine well before the takeover. FairPoint and state officials now agree that outside expertise is necessary. This should mean that an agreement on getting this help to Maine and the other states will be forthcoming.
Speeding the corrective work, without bogging it down with unnecessary reporting requirements, is where FairPoint and state regulators should focus their attention.