The chief executive of FairPoint Communications doesn’t act like a man with government regulators, consumer advocates and labor unions in three states calling his company’s finances into question.

Gene Johnson speaks glowingly about his company’s commitment to Maine. “We wanted to buy locally if we could,” he said recently, in announcing FairPoint’s deal with FISC Solutions in Lewiston for payment processing.

FISC will hire 10 employees to handle FairPoint, which will become the downtown company’s largest client. FairPoint envisions “a lot more business with FISC down the road,” too, according to Johnson.

The sight of a national company sending its top executive into Lewiston to announce good news is one for sore eyes. But this good news has a catch: it’s contingent on approval of FairPoint’s $1.7 billion acquisition of Verizon’s landline infrastructure in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, which is far from a done deal.

As fronted by its CEO, FairPoint appears confident in its ability to manage Verizon’s operations – enough to make solid fiscal promises to companies like FISC and others in Maine – even though the Charlotte, N.C., company’s finances are under considerable scrutiny.

Critics of the merger question whether FairPoint has the financial wherewithal to manage Verizon’s operations without assuming crippling debt, having massive layoffs, or failing to deliver promised extensions of vital services, such as broadband Internet access.

So is the concern about FairPoint’s resources that Maine’s public advocate made the startling recommendation last week that Verizon reduce the merger cost by $600 million, and therefore reduce FairPoint’s debt. The smaller company’s “financial viability” is the public advocate’s top concern.

“Without a significant reduction in the price, this proposal will not work for Maine’s residential and small business customers,” the public advocate, Richard Davies, said. In total, Davies’ office issued 23 conditions on the merger, which are prerequisites for receiving its support.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission is expected to issue its final decision in January.

In doing so, the PUC should consider more than the analyses, speculation and concern about FairPoint’s financial picture, which now dominate the debate. The availability of resources doesn’t guarantee their expenditure to benefit Maine, which is why the state still waits for advancements in existing telecommunications technology.

Even with sizable resource advantages, the presence of larger companies such as Verizon haven’t helped Maine attain its goals of widespread broadband connectivity. Only in late August, for example, did Verizon agree to extend broadband service to 70 percent of its Maine access lines, which it has promised by next February.

The state has lofty telecommunications goals that could remain underachieved if too much emphasis is placed upon available resources, instead of significant commitment. Though FairPoint has financial questions yet to answer, its expressed willingness to serve Maine should be a mark in its favor with regulators.


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