Maine utility regulators are considering a $500,000 fine against FairPoint Communications for failing to meet minimum service standards for landline customers, but FairPoint contends the standards are both unattainable and unnecessary in the fast-evolving telecom industry.
FairPoint, which provides telephone service in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, contends cyberattacks, bad weather and a four-month strike contributed to service problems, and the company told the Maine Public Utilities Commission that it shouldn't be penalized.
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The commission staff contends that FairPoint should've been better prepared for the strike and winter weather, and that it wasn't putting forth enough effort.
The full Public Utilities Commission now takes up the matter.
Public Advocate Timothy Schneider said Monday that the quality standards are aimed at protecting Maine residents who have no other option for telephone service.
"One of the primary reasons that we have service quality requirements for this basic service is so that phone companies don't divert resources away from these basic services" to other areas — like broadband — that are more profitable, Schneider said.
There was no immediate comment from FairPoint.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company missed at least some — and sometimes all — of its service standards during the period from the middle of 2014 through the end of 2015. That period included a strike by more than 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The standards apply to trouble rates, problems not cleared up within 24 hours and unmet installation appointments, along with service outages and average delay days.
The company has sought to be relieved its state mandate of providing service to all customers in the communities it serves, saying most Mainers have choices for telephone service from cable providers and wireless carriers. It contends the marketplace will weed out those who provide bad service, and that should be punishment enough without fines imposed by the state.
The Maine Legislature reached a compromise in a law that went into this summer.
The Maine law lifts a requirement for FairPoint to provide landline access to 22 large communities where there's adequate competition but the requirement still covers about 150 other communities.