PORTLAND (AP) – Thousands of FairPoint Communications customers lost e-mail service due to technical issues just hours after FairPoint took over Verizon Communications’ telephone and Internet service in northern New England.

Customers with Verizon e-mail accounts were supposed to be switched over to FairPoint e-mail addresses beginning Saturday. But when the switch was made, many customers couldn’t set up new accounts.

Fielding calls for help

Extra workers were called to FairPoint’s customer service center Monday to handle the high call volume from customers seeking help, said FairPoint spokesman Jeff Nevins.

Customers were being helped one-by-one, he said, and call volumes had diminished by Monday afternoon. He did not know how many customers lost e-mail service, but said thousands of people have called for help, jamming phone lines.

“We’re going to be working on this a number of days. It’s not a quick fix,” Nevins said.

FairPoint last year paid $2.3 billion for Verizon’s land lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Transition trouble

During the transition process, FairPoint has experienced a number of bumps along the way.

Equipment malfunctions and human error led to several 911 system glitches that left people unable to reach a 911 operator, and the date when FairPoint was to take control of the entire network was delayed twice because of technical concerns.

On Saturday, FairPoint took over total control of the Verizon system. The process, which takes about a week to complete, involves shutting down Verizon’s 600 computer systems that served northern New England and transferring the data to FairPoint’s new network of 60 computer systems.

Saturday was also when customers began switching their Verizon e-mail accounts to FairPoint accounts. There are 285,000 customers in the three states who had Verizon e-mail addresses, Nevins said.

Richard Davies, Maine’s public advocate, said his office received only a couple of calls on the e-mail problems.

The impact will vary by customer depending on how often they use the e-mail service, he said.

“It’s really going to vary person to person, but if it affects even one person significantly, that’s reason for that person to be concerned,” he said.

Nevins said the rest of the system switchover appeared to be going smoothly.

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