FairPoint CEO: Business growth to surpass residential losses, revenues to grow

Posted Aug. 20, 2012, at 1:10 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 20, 2012, at 3:33 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — FairPoint Communications’ years-long decline in revenues should reverse itself in 2013, the company’s CEO said Monday.

The growth among business customers should begin exceeding the loss of residential landline customers later this year, Paul Sunu said during an interview in Portland. As a result, revenues in 2013 are expected to grow for the first time since 2008, he told The Associated Press.

The company has successfully executed three parts of its “four-pillar strategy” by improving operations, changing the regulatory environment and improving productivity, Sunu said. However, the company has fallen short of its fourth goal of increasing sales.

“The last thing we need to work on is to transform and grow our revenues, and I think we’re in a good position to do that now,” Sunu said in his first face-to-face media interview in Maine since becoming CEO two year ago.

FairPoint is based in Charlotte, N.C., and provides Internet, landline telephone and other telecommunications services in 18 states. Its largest holdings by far are in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, where it has about 1.1 million Internet and phone lines.

The company entered the northern New England market when it bought Verizon Inc.’s landline telephone operations in the three states for $2.3 billion in 2007. Barely 18 months later it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization with a battered financial sheet and reputation.

When Sunu came on board in August 2010, FairPoint was still four months from emerging from bankruptcy. But he was confident the company would regain its reputation and lost customers.

The recovery, though, has been slow.

After coming out of bankruptcy, the company’s stock price fell from more than $25 to less than $4 a share. The price has been hovering around the $6 range during the past couple of months.

FairPoint cut its workforce by 10 percent, resulting in 400 job losses last year. Some people even asked whether FairPoint should change its name to distance itself from its past problems. And while the company remains the largest telephone company in northern New England, its market share has fallen below 50 percent, Sunu said.

The company is now aiming to grow revenues, which shrunk from nearly $1.3 billion in 2008 to just over $1 billion last year. With residential access lines continuing to fall, the growth will come from the business customers, for both telephone lines and broadband data and Internet services, Sunu said.

Recent regulatory changes in northern New England now allow FairPoint to quickly offer pricing plans in response to competitors’ prices rather than going through a slow regulatory process to have pricing changes approved. Changes like that allow the company to be more competitive for businesses, Sunu said.

Every landline telephone company in the country is looking for ways to grow their revenue base, Sunu said. But while many of those firms have been growing by acquiring other companies, such as website hosting businesses, FairPoint is looking to grow with what it has.

“We could be the first telephone company to transform our revenues on an organic basis, to grow out of our problem and to have sustainable and growth-oriented revenues,” he said.

Before joining FairPoint, Sunu, 56, worked as the chief financial officer at Hargray Communications Group Inc., a telephone, cable TV and Internet company based in South Carolina.

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