AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Appearing before a legislative panel, FairPoint Communications’ president said Wednesday the beleaguered regional phone company agrees outside help is needed to improve customer service and said it’s already addressed many of the problems that have drawn thousands of complaints.

“We have a very high degree of urgency to address the needs of the customers, and we are doing that every day,” company President Peter Nixon told the Utilities and Energy Committee, which invited officials from FairPoint and the state Public Advocate’s Office to discuss ongoing problems with the delivery of land line telephone and broadband Internet service.

The North Carolina-based company bought Verizon’s land line business and Internet operations in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire in a $2.3 billion deal last year.

Wednesday’s session came two days after regulators in Vermont opened a probe into whether to revoke FairPoint’s right to do business in that state and a day after FairPoint Chairman David Hauser briefed Maine Gov. John Baldacci and the Public Utilities Commission on what remedial steps the company is taking.

With consumer frustration running high due to billing errors, service order delays, unplanned disconnections and long waits on call-in customer service lines, FairPoint officials have also made appearances before public utility commissions in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Maine Public Advocate Richard Davies took issue Wednesday with Vermont’s approach, saying, “We frankly don’t think that’s the appropriate way to go.” He said the focus should instead be on getting the phone company, which serves more than 80 percent of Maine’s people, running properly as soon as possible.

During the largely collegial exchange, Davies and his staff recommended that FairPoint hire one or more vendors to analyze the company’s computerized system, isolate the problem areas and set out a process to repair them.

“We believe it’s the fix that’s got to happen … has got to be done now and has to be done well,” said Deputy Public Advocate Bill Black. Acknowledging FairPoint’s financial problems, Black added, “We don’t want to create extra expenses for FairPoint here. Now is not the time to let the system fall apart any further.”

Among the Maine officials, more frustration was directed at the state PUC than at FairPoint. Black criticized the commission for not being more active in working toward a resolution to FairPoint’s problems.

Nixon said FairPoint is largely “in alignment” with the approach suggested by the public advocate. Outside consultants would have “direct, unfettered access” to the company’s systems and encouraged to have a hands-on approach, he said. A company already brought in to look at part of the system has come up with 380 recommendations, and 176 of them have been employed to date, he said.

While acknowledging many of the problems cited by customers, Nixon said the company’s performance is improving in several areas.

Acknowledging the company’s $17.8 million loss during the second quarter and difficulties meeting its financial obligations, Nixon said, “We are working extremely hard in restructuring our debt. It’s a stressful time.”

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