FairPoint denies faking its readiness

Posted Aug. 31, 2009, at 8:19 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — FairPoint Communications is denying allegations that it faked its readiness to take over the major phone networks serving Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“FairPoint disputes and has discovered no evidence to support the allegations” made in an anonymous e-mail sent to the Vermont Public Service Board and copied to officials in the other states, the company said Monday in a filing at the Vermont board.

Meanwhile, an associate attorney general in New Hampshire said Monday that her office is trying to determine whether a crime was committed.

“We would need to look further into the substance of the allegations,” Ann Rice said. “There is the potential that it could constitute criminal conduct.”

She would not comment on what laws might have been broken.

Kate Simmons, a spokeswoman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, said that office was investigating as well.

The writer of the Aug. 14 e-mail said he was involved in meetings in Atlanta late last year in which North Carolina-based FairPoint, which was preparing to take over northern New England’s dominant phone networks from Verizon Communications, sought to demonstrate its readiness for the cutover for a firm working for the three states, Liberty Consulting Group.

The writer told regulators that “when Liberty was watching what they thought was ‘flow thru’ within a system and from one system to another, they were really only seeing a small program that was created to assimilate what they wanted the systems to do. They were not actually in the systems at the time nor were they in the test systems. They were in a newly created small program that used screen shots from the real system to deceive the audience into believing that they were watching a real demonstration.”

In a five-page letter dated Monday to the Public Service Board, FairPoint said it had asked two outside law firms to investigate the allegations raised in the e-mail, that the lawyers interviewed 12 current and former FairPoint employees, and that they tried reaching out to the e-mail writer at the anonymous e-mail account he provided, but got no response.

The lawyers “have discovered no evidence to support the allegations of a fraudulent or fabricated testing process, and they have discovered no evidence that FairPoint intended to mislead or actually misled Liberty about testing results,” FairPoint’s letter to the board said.

The company argued that the e-mail writer appeared to have been unduly alarmed by FairPoint’s use of “screen shots” — essentially still photographs of a computer program going through its paces.

The company said it had to use screen shots to simulate some parts of the planned cutover, and that it told the reviewers from Liberty when it was doing so. “In short, Liberty was aware of and not misled by FairPoint’s use of screen shots,” the company told the board.

A woman who answered the phone Monday at Liberty’s headquarters in Quentin, Pa., said the company would have no comment on the FairPoint matter.

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