FairPoint Communications is a victim of ambition and timing. Just when it started to run, the market meltdown took out its knees. Now the telecommunications firm is restructuring under Chapter 11, 98 percent of its shares are owned by creditors, and many accusations are flying about who is to blame for it all.
Blame reality. There was little chance FairPoint was going to escape unscathed — every other heavily leveraged entity suffered in the credit market collapse, from the tiniest homeowners to the monolith investment banks. It just took FairPoint a little longer to feel the effects.
So what happens now? Peter Nixon, the president of FairPoint, told the Sun Journal editorial board that the restructuring promised by Chapter 11 will help the company return to competitiveness. He was mum on what "restructuring" meant — such as job losses in Maine — but vowed FairPoint will meet its prior promises, particularly regarding the expansion of broadband Internet service throughout the state.
This should be the priority.
Maine's future is not in stringing hardwired telephone lines, but in growing capacity for sending digital bits of information screaming across the state and beyond. Nixon talks excitedly about broadband — "the demand for (it) is clear, even in a difficult economy," he says — and reveals FairPoint has frozen investment into current technology to devote more resources into what's next.
Good. The state needs FairPoint to meet its goals for deploying broadband: 83 percent of customers wired by 2010, then 95 percent by 2013, to further economic development, in both rural and urban areas. Maine can overcome its geographical and climatological disadvantages with enhanced, accessible and affordable Internet connectivity for entrepreneurs and small business.
Richard Davies, Maine's public advocate, has called FairPoint's course "promising" now that the Chapter 11 process has begun. We would tend to agree; the filing was looming for weeks. It is blessedly over now and FairPoint can start its restructuring with a load of debt off its books.
Broadband is key to it. If FairPoint wants to restore its reputation and credibility in Maine, both of which have suffered during these trying times, it will prove itself to be the leader in Internet technology that the state, and its customers, require it to be.