- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - State officials asked utility regulators on Monday to investigate service problems with FairPoint Communications, which have increased since its 1,700-member workforce in Northern New England went on strike in mid-October.

Over the last several months Vermont Department of Public Service has twice written FairPoint letters saying that if its service quality did not improve it would request the investigation.

The department’s Telecommunications Director, Jim Porter, said Monday the complaints about FairPoint service date to the fall of 2013 and they spiked after the strike began in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The situation was worsened Friday by a service outage in much of Vermont that caused phone problems and disrupted the state’s 911 emergency system, but it didn’t prompt the complaint, Porter said.

“The truth is I was planning on filing the request this morning anyway,” Porter said Monday. “The 911 outage was just an unfortunate further example of the serious consequences that can come from these sort of problems.”

North Carolina-based FairPoint Communications provides telephone and high-speed Internet service in Northern New England.

FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry said Friday’s 911 problems in Vermont were not due to the strike. A winter storm took out a fiber optic line in New Hampshire and then a redundant system failed, she said. It took about six hours to fix the problem.

She said FairPoint had received the Public Service Department’s request for an investigation.

“If the board opens an investigation, we will fully cooperate with them,” she said.

There’s been no request for a formal investigation in Maine, but the Public Utilities Commission is reviewing 14 complaints about FairPoint service since the strike began, said PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear. Eleven of the complaints stemmed from service repairs, two were made by customers who said they couldn’t reach FairPoint, and one from a customer who had trouble getting new service.

Porter said he assumed the board would agree to open the investigation the department is seeking. If so the department will hire a consultant to identify the reasons for the service problems.

“At that point I hope we can come up with a plan the board can put in place that we can abide by to get the service quality back to an acceptable level,” Porter said.

AP Reporter David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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