The struggle of FairPoint in northern New England lends to making sudden, impassioned judgment calls. In recent weeks, a theme has emerged: The three states, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont made a huge mistake by approving FairPoint’s purchase of Verizon’s landlines.

It’s too early to say this with certainty. FairPoint, unarguably, is not fulfilling its stated service promises since switching its systems on March 31. FairPoint is struggling financially, is having leadership upheaval and is seeing its reputation in northern New England torn and frayed.

Now, the company is asking Maine utility regulators to waive or delay the assessment of $3 million in fines stemming from the service woes. While this is indicative of its operational troubles, FairPoint has not earned any leniency. There must be penalties for its inadequate performance.

Waiving the fines would not only absolve the company of its failings, but betray the consumers and other telecommunications firms whose interests utility regulators must also protect.

On Friday, FairPoint reported improving performance, reduced delays in customer service and fewer billing problems. The company also acknowledged, however, that problems remain, most notably the escalating volume of customer complaints coming through state regulators.

With good reason, it must be said. The products that FairPoint provides are lifeblood for many small businesses, which cannot accept an eternal delay for getting technical or customer support to fix their intermittent e-mail service or telephone line. FairPoint’s foibles have a massive ripple effect.

It has been a messy, mishandled transition — but not yet a mistake. Northern New England knew what it had with Verizon, if the sale to FairPoint wasn’t approved: a disinterested behemoth, unresponsive to the telecommunications needs of the region while it pursued more fertile ground elsewhere.

The risk with FairPoint was always that the company was too ambitious and leveraged to make this deal work, as it vowed it could. Now that these fears are being realized, the course of action shouldn’t be kicking FairPoint when it is down, but acting judiciously in helping it up.

Maine never would have met its telecommunications goals under Verizon, particularly for broadband Internet access. That company’s willingness to maintain and improve the infrastructure simply wasn’t apparent. FairPoint, for all its flaws, remains willing to do this important work.

A good deal of the state’s economic development potential is contingent upon FairPoint’s ability to string broadband to the farthest-flung reaches of Maine, potential that would have been unrealized under Verizon’s laissez-faire attitude toward this region.

Yet while it is too soon to judge FairPoint’s tenure, seconds are ticking away. While the scope of what FairPoint is trying to do is remarkable — the largest telecommunications transition project in history — consumers and regulators aren’t ranking the company on its degree of difficulty.

The true measure of FairPoint will be whether it will provide reliable, affordable and widely available telephone and Internet services in Maine. So far, the company seems unable to meet that goal. The patience of customers and regulators wanes with every excuse, misstep or blunder.

They want results. Soon, FairPoint must deliver them.

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