PORTLAND – FairPoint Communications is expected to file a report to regulators detailing how it plans to address mounting customer service and billing problems.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s request for a “stabilization plan” was prompted by consumer complaints about service orders not being filled, billing errors and long waits when calling FairPoint’s customer service center.

Among the PUC’s questions are how FairPoint plans to improve its ordering process, resolve billing errors and customer confusion, improve customer call center performance and repair deficiencies in its back-office systems. FairPoint planned to send the report to the PUC Tuesday evening after the PUC offices had closed for the day.

“It will address the questions and issues raised by the commission,” said Jeff Nevins, spokesman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm.

FairPoint paid $2.3 billion for Verizon Communications’ land lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in a deal completed last March 31; but it didn’t take total control until late January when it transferred data from Verizon’s 600 computer systems to FairPoint’s new network of 60 computer systems.

Nearly two months after taking over complete control of Verizon’s landline telephone and Internet business in northern New England, FairPoint continues having problems with the transition.

FairPoint has taken some heavy hits since the change.

• Last week, the company agreed to issue credit rebates to nearly 20,000 customers who have experienced e-mail problems.

• The PUC reported receiving calls from more than 1,200 customers between late January and early this month.

• Last year, the company lost 12 percent of its residential and business lines throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The average among FairPoint’s peers was 7 percent, the company said.

One of those customers was Norm Marsh.

The Augusta resident was so annoyed after losing his e-mail and not being able to get through to FairPoint’s customer service representatives that he pulled the plug on FairPoint and switched to a competitor on March 5.

But he’s still calling after his bank account was debited $84 last week through the automatic payment plan he signed up for through FairPoint. Marsh said he still can’t get through to resolve the matter.

“It doesn’t matter what day you call, what time you call, you get the message of ‘unexpectedly high call volume.’ There’s no way people can communicate with them,” Marsh said. “If they’re putting more people on, how come they still have the same message all the time?”

Marsh is among those who have been placed on hold for an hour or more while waiting to talk to customer service agents or simply disconnected for no apparent reason while on hold, said Richard Davies, Maine’s Public Advocate.

Others have reported receiving bills for services they’ve already paid for, while some potential customers have waited weeks to have service connected, he said.

Additionally, test calls made by members of Davies’ staff have revealed that many of FairPoint’s customer service representatives don’t know all of the company’s products or pricing plans, Davies said.

“As a consequence, people aren’t getting the right information or are failing to get the information they need to make an informed decision on what services they might want and whether they want to get it from FairPoint or from some competitor,” Davies said.

PUC spokesman Fred Bever said once the commission receives the report, it will work with its consultant and staff at regulatory agencies in New Hampshire and Vermont to determine the plan’s adequacy.

“If the staff perceives gaps in the plan, then FairPoint will be informed and asked to fill in those gaps,” Bever said.


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