CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – FairPoint Communications executives said Tuesday the company has improved its performance since it took over northern New England telephone systems from Verizon last winter, but they could not say when services would match the quality provided under the previous owner.

FairPoint President Peter Nixon testified at a hearing of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission staff as part of a state review. Consumer Advocate Meredith Hatfield requested the review, saying that FairPoint has performed poorly and the commission should investigate. Commission staff will present recommendations to the full panel Aug. 7.

Nixon said FairPoint and Verizon had comparable records for handling consumer service requests – such as the speed with which calls are answered at call centers – except in late June and early July when software problems caused delays.

He said the same was true for business customers, but only in the last two weeks.

Nixon acknowledged FairPoint was still working to improve service in other areas.

Executive Vice President Jeff Allen said some automated systems were still not working as expected because of one-time problems. For example, information on special features was lost for seasonal homeowners during the changeover in January, he said. FairPoint’s system could start basic service for the homeowners returning from winter homes, but workers had to manually add extra features they enjoyed previously. Allen said the system will automatically add the features the next time.

FairPoint executives also were appearing before the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday to discuss the company’s request for a waiver of fines imposed for poor wholesale service. The fines are part of nearly $3 million that FairPoint estimates it owes to local phone competitors across northern New England for poor network service from February through April.

FairPoint, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., owns and operates 32 phone companies in 18 states with a total of 1.7 million lines. Most of them are in northern New England, where last year the company bought Verizon’s landline telephone and Internet operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont for $2.3 billion.

Tuesday’s session in New Hampshire was to explore technical reasons for complaints about poor service, such as dropped calls and slow response times. Although the staff reports to the commission next month, the commission is not bound by the report’s recommendations.

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