HALLOWELL — The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday morning to change the obligations Fairpoint Communications must meet in respect to investing in the expansion of broadband availability in Maine. The commission’s chairman acknowledged that the vote will mean that some customers in rural Maine will not see their Internet speed improved, but that the change represents a reasonable tradeoff that will allow Fairpoint to take other actions to improve the overall quality of its broadband service.

The three commissioners voted 2-1 to accept a stipulation agreement submitted by Fairpoint, and supported by Maine’s Office of the Public Advocate, which changes the way in which telecommunication lines are counted toward the expansion goals Fairpoint must meet. The stipulation agreement also commits Fairpoint to invest an undisclosed amount in improving “broadband facilities and services in Maine that will benefit small businesses and residential customers.”

Commissioners Tom Welch, the PUC chairman, and Mark Vannoy voted to accept the stipulation agreement. Commissioner David Littell opposed the agreement.

Littell said during deliberations that the stipulation agreement “substantially” reduces the broadband speed that some Maine customers will have access to, and that approving the settlement “is not in the public interest.”

Welch supported the settlement agreement because he said the past requirements in respect to broadband speed are out of date, and the agreement will allow Fairpoint to invest capital in areas where it can do more good rather than invest capital to improve the speed in some areas from inadequate to slightly less inadequate.

“The implication probably is — I think this is fair to say — there will be some customers in some of the more rural areas who will not have their speed improved,” Welch told the Bangor Daily News after the PUC vote. “The tradeoff is Fairpoint will commit to invest a certain amount of money improving broadband in other ways throughout the state for commercial and residential customers. One of things it committed to do is upgrade the number of central offices to provide significant increases in speed for customers served out of those offices, something they were not required to do under the prior order.”

Fairpoint Communications acquired Verizon’s landline and broadband business in Maine in a deal announced in 2007. As part of the acquisition, Fairpoint at the time agreed to meet goals for the expansion of broadband access in Maine and to invest $57 million in its Maine network. After Fairpoint filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the investment requirement was dropped.

However, Fairpoint still need to meet goals for the percentage of people with access to broadband. The agreement requires Fairpoint to have made broadband available to 85 percent of people by tomorrow, and 87 percent by April 14, 2014. If those goals aren’t met, the company will be required to make it available to 90 percent of people by May 1, 2015.

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