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FairPoint's Commitment to Landline Service in Question During Meeting in Bangor

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Exactly what will happen when FairPoint Communications launches new changes next month to its basic landline phone service is not yet clear. But the state’s public advocate and consumer groups hope a series of statewide hearings on the so-called provider of last resort, or POLR, service will lay some concerns to rest. Several questions were raised during the first of those hearings Thursday night.

Would they still have access to landline telephone service? Could they wind up paying more each month? Would FairPoint still be obligated to repair damaged telephone lines? These were among the questions posed by several Bangor area residents at the first hearing. Jane Margesson, executive director of Maine AARP says most Mainers are in the dark about what will happen on Aug. 28th when FairPoint no longer has to provide basic telephone service in more than 20 of the state’s largest communities.

“We are hearing from our membership that there is a lot of confusion about the deregulation in these 22 towns,” Margesson says. “We’re very glad that there’s going to be these PUC hosted meetings and we will be at every single meeting.”

There’s also confusion about why customers are confused. During the community meeting, FairPoint representative Sarah Davis said AARP’s efforts to inform the public caused some of it.

“I think people were confused because in part due to the AARP press release and some other things that had some information that wasn’t exactly accurate that said if you weren’t in these communities you weren’t affected at all and it’s not exactly true at all,” says Davis.

When asked whether FairPoint bore any of the responsibility for failing to clearly outline the changes to its basic, price-protected landline service Davis also said the Maine news media could have done a better job.

“There’s been a lot through the media and other outlets a lot of miscommunication from media misunderstanding that is driving consumer misunderstanding,” Davis says. “The intent was never for instance to discontinue landlines and that seemed to get out in the media a lot.”

“I’m one of the older people who does not use a cell phone or the internet — it just seems to me that you are leaving us in the lurch,” says Pam Taylor, a FairPoint customer in Bangor.

She said that she hadn’t received any notices from FairPoint regarding changes to her basic landline service that were authorized this year by the Maine Legislature. FairPoint told lawmakers that it shouldn’t have to provide it in nearly two dozen larger communities that have numerous competing options for communications, whether it be cell phone service, cable television telephone service or other telephone companies. Tim Schneider, Maine’s public advocate, told the audience that the thrust of the changes involves relieving FairPoint of having to seek PUC review if it wants to raise the fixed monthly rates for landline service.

“They would do a rate case which could last nine months to increase it even a dollar, now after one year they can raise rates and they don’t have to ask for permission anymore,” Schneider says.

The next PUC hearing on POLR will be from 6 to 7 p.m. on July 13th at Lewiston City Hall.

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