OPINION: Fairpoint Fails: No Phone at Home for Weeks

by Mason Singer

lost FairPoint Communications administered phone service on Dec. 16 and have had no phone at my home since then — more than three weeks and counting. It appears that I am far from alone and that a significant but unknown number of others have the same trouble.

Calling FairPoint’s repair line elicits only this response: “We are aware of the situation. We’ll get to it as quickly as possible. Your business is top priority to us.” Baloney. When pressed for a repair schedule (weeks, months, years?) an unusually candid supervisor finally told me that no one in the company can answer that question, adding that she would give me a date if I really wanted one. Meaning, I understood, that she’d just make something up.

FairPoint would like us to think that stalled labor negotiations are causing delays in service. That claim doesn’t carry water. The company has the resources — in finances and personnel — to fill any temporary gaps if it suits their purposes. I appreciate that the December ice storm complicated matters for FairPoint over and above the local work stoppage. That does not explain why this company with its high tech capabilities cannot even provide the bare minimum, a rough schedule for repair.

This has moved beyond incompetence, beyond indifference. FairPoint is knowingly, and I supect willfully, refusing to invest in repairs and provide a service for which they have contracted and for which we have been paying. At the very least, these people are playing us for chumps.

Contacting the Public Service Board yielded little information beyond a repeat of FairPoint’s excuses and the fact that complaints go back to October. The PSB representative also noted that they are in “…regular contact with FairPoint and it is also of great concern…” to them, and that they have asked FairPoint to “…prioritize repairs for customers with medical needs and those without access to cellphone service in their homes.” Lot of good that has done.

Beyond any inconvenience (as noted, many of us also have no cell service where we live), house fires cannot be called in, accidents cannot be reported. There are Vermonters with serious health needs who are without easy access to emergency services. We are heading into a spate of deep cold and icy conditions. These customers will be even more vulnerable. This becomes a public safety matter.

How many people are affected? How long have these folks been without service? What is FairPoint’s game plan for repairs? How backlogged are they really? Why are they not able to provide emergency service for those with medical conditions? On behalf of us all, these are questions the PSB should be demanding answers to. The Department of Public Service claims to get regular updates from FairPoint on this situation. Make that information public so that we have some idea of the scope of the problem.

It’s pretty obvious that something bigger than my little broken phone line appears to be in the works. So, what is the real story? News reports indicate that some members of the state legislature are waking up to this question. Representative Shap Smith, for one, seems to believe that FairPoint is aiming to leave the state and is intentionally implementing what amounts to an unacknowledged corporate slowdown. Speculation has it that the investment firms that own FairPoint want to strip the company of as many expenses as possible and sell it off, with pesky Vermont being dumped along the way. If true, state regulators and administration leaders need to wade in here and develop a plan in anticipation of FairPoint turning tail and fleeing the state.

Reportedly, the Department of Public Service has opened an investigation into FairPoint’s service quality (or lack thereof). You can submit comments to be included in the record by sending an email to psb-clerk@state.vt.us (reference docket #8390). Let the PSB and your representative know what you think about FairPoint and their policies. Let’s dump FairPoint before they dump us.

Mason Singer is a Calais resident.

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