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Shareholders ‘Beating the Drums’ Demanding Quick Sale of FairPoint Communications… to Anyone

Phillip Dampier March 4, 2015 Consumer News, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

fairpointJust weeks after FairPoint Communications and union workers settled a prolonged strike involving more than 1,700 workers that began last October, shareholders are demanding the company sell itself and exit the business.

Investors are reacting negatively to today’s news that FairPoint’s quarterly losses accelerated during the 131-day strike to $136.3 million as the company spent an extra $73.6 million on temporary replacement workers and defending itself in strike-related negotiations.

Since FairPoint declared bankruptcy reorganization in 2011, the company has continued to post losses each year since, and those losses show no signs of ending. The company today abandoned issuing guidance on its future earnings for the rest of 2015, claiming it was uncertain of the impact of the strike on its future revenue.

They could ask customers like John Bouchard in Robbinston, Maine, who canceled after becoming fed up with FairPoint’s impotent customer service department, unable to resolve service problems during the strike.

Bouchard told the Associated Press after his FairPoint DSL service went out, he set up an installation appointment with the cable company and had to leave his home office and drive through a snowstorm to find Internet access while Time Warner Cable caught up with the demand for new service installations.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

fairpoint1_0FairPoint’s unionized workers returning to the job openly worried about the state of FairPoint’s network after a hard winter and how inexperienced temporary workers maintained the facilities while they were on strike.

Multiple press reports documented instances of shoddy repair work from the temporary workers, including some safety hazards.

“We have to win back the confidence of our customers,” said Adam Frederickson, a FairPoint worker in Nashua, N.H.

Barry Sine, an analyst who follows FairPoint for Drexel Hamilton, a New York-based brokerage, said he believes it will take 30 to 45 days for the company’s workforce to restore service quality to pre-strike levels. But by then, thousands of customers are likely to have switched providers.

North Carolina-based FairPoint disagreed that the problems were serious. “The FairPoint network performed exceptionally during the work stoppage and our well-trained and qualified contract workforce provided superb support of that network,” said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.

Sine believes FairPoint would have been a prime target for acquisition earlier if it were not for its legacy workforce costs, which include benefits the company just successfully cut in the labor contract that ended the strike. With the strike now behind the company, investors believe now is the time FairPoint should sell itself to maximize shareholder value.

“Shareholders are beating the drums; they want to sell this company now,” said Sine. “The unions, there’s no love lost with this management team. The unions would like a new owner as well.”

for sale by ownerUnion leaders sense the company is already quietly getting the books in order for a sale.

Don Trementozzi, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1400 in Portsmouth, N.H. told the AP the company seemed fixated on improving its books instead of focusing on customers.

“The brand has put a sour taste in the mouths of customers,” he said. “We’re going to go back to work and do everything we can to make this company profitable. But the brand, the name, suffered greatly in this. I don’t know if you can recover without a sale.”

In any sale, FairPoint executives and shareholders are likely to win the most. FairPoint workers, already challenged by significant benefit cuts, could face pressure from new owners to further reduce pay and benefits. FairPoint would likely sell for $25-30 a share, or around $780 million. But a buyer would also have to assume nearly a billion dollars in prior debt from a company that has never managed to post a quarterly profit since emerging from bankruptcy.

The most likely buyer would be Frontier Communications, already solidly established in the northeastern United States. But it may be too preoccupied with its recent $10 billion acquisition of Verizon landlines in Florida, California, and Texas to consider another acquisition. The next likely buyer would be Arkansas-based Windstream, followed by CenturyLink.

FairPoint’s president of Maine operations dismissed the speculation about FairPoint’s future, claiming it is focused on growing the business, not selling it.

“We have a responsibility to our customers, to our shareholders. We need to run the company as profitably as we can, to provide the best service that we can provide. That’s what we do,” he said. The union’s contention that FairPoint fought to cut worker benefits just to make itself attractive to buyers “is a stretch,” he said.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFFF Burlington FairPoint Workers React to Tentative Deal 2-24-15.mp4

A FairPoint employee tells WFFF-TV in Burlington, Vt. how declining service may have finally forced FairPoint to the bargaining table with a proposal workers could accept.  (2:51)

Maine: Your Broadband Speeds and Availability Suck – 49th Out of 50 States

Maine's broadband speeds are among the worst in the country. (Graphic: Portland Press Herald)

Maine’s broadband speeds are among the worst in the country. (Graphic: Portland Press Herald)

If talking about broadband was the same as getting broadband, Maine would be saturated with High Speed Internet service. Despite years of blue ribbon task forces, studies, grants, and lawsuits, the state of broadband in Maine has never been worse, ranked 49th among 50 states for quality of service and availability. The only state below Maine is Montana.

Maine’s woeful broadband is the result of passive providers including Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications that find little incentive to expand service into Maine’s considerable rural back country. Even if they did offer service, Maine’s aging population hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for spending hours online, assuming they understood how to navigate the Internet in the first place.

So how do you convince Maine’s broadband providers to deliver more and better service? Throw money at them in the form of tax breaks and subsidies, suggests David Maxwell, program director of the ConnectME Authority. He believes that if providers are incentivized to wire the unwired by agreeing to cover some of the costs, they will do it.

But as the Portland Press Herald reports, eight rounds of ConnectME grant funding to providers that averaged $1 million each has not made much of an improvement in the state’s broadband standing.

Maine residents in cities and large towns can usually find broadband service from either Time Warner Cable or FairPoint Communications, which purchased the deteriorating copper wire network abandoned by Verizon Communications as it exited the landline business in northern New England. Cable broadband customers can buy speeds up to 50Mbps, but Time Warner’s presence in Maine is not widespread. The majority of customers still buy access from FairPoint, and DSL speeds in Maine are slow.

Gizmodo reports the majority of Maine counties serviced by FairPoint currently receive a maximum speed of 7.3-10.9Mbps, primarily over DSL. That is 40-60 percent slower than the national average. In nearby Boston, speeds average 21.8-25.5Mbps.

FairPoint has been reticent about upgrading its landline infrastructure, particularly in rural counties. Maxwell told the newspaper FairPoint and other providers can’t justify an investment in broadband with no possibility of a quick return. But the phone company has also been accused of reneging on commitments already made to improve Internet access.

The Maine Public Advocate’s Office sued FairPoint to speed up and broaden its efforts to expand broadband to at least 87 percent of customers no later than April.

Wayne Jortner, senior counsel, told the Portland newspaper FairPoint vigorously defended against the lawsuit, but ultimately lost.

“In fact, the litigation did cause us to go all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, and we won there again,” Jortner said. “Now they’re on track to pretty much do what they said they would do.”

95% of Vermont Has Access to Broadband; 100% May Have It in 2013

VTA_logoAt least 95 percent of Vermont residents will have access to broadband by the end of today, because of a combination of private investment, public funding, and innovative service solutions for some of the state’s most rural areas.

State officials say 2012 was an important year for broadband availability in Vermont, as dominant phone company FairPoint Communications made inroads in expanding its DSL service in areas that never had access before.

In 2011, Governor Shumlin set an ambitious goal to see 100 percent of Vermont covered by broadband by the end of 2013, and the state appears on track to achieve that target in the coming year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Ask The Governor Broadband 2-3-11.flv

Gov. Shumlin answered questions from state residents regarding his plan to see 100% broadband coverage in Vermont by the end of 2013. (Feb. 3 2011) (3 minutes)

Vermont’s small size would seem to make it an easy target for total broadband coverage, but significant rural areas have made it unprofitable for commercial phone and cable companies to make inroads.

Comcast, the state’s largest cable operator, has not grown much geographically over the past five years. FairPoint, which took control of much of the state’s landline network from Verizon in 2008, has been compelled to achieve broadband expansion as part of an agreement that approved the sale.

logo-broadbandVTKaren Marshall, who heads a state effort to expand both cell phone and broadband access in Vermont says the remaining areas without coverage will be a difficult challenge, but one that can be achieved with the help of private and public investment.

“The last 5 percent are the needle in the haystack,” Marshall told Vermont Public Radio. “They are the most far-flung, probably the most expensive and sometimes even the most physically challenging to get to.”

Wireless is often the most cost-effective solution, both for broadband and cell expansion, and Marshall suggested Vermont would use microcell technology along Vermont’s rural roadways.

“I think we will be one of the first places in the country that is deploying microcell technology for example, on the top of telephone poles or utility poles, kind of like a daisy chain,” Marshall said.

The rural Vermont Telephone Company won a $5 million state grant to cover Vermont’s southernmost counties with a combination of wireless phone and broadband service.

While areas of rural Vermont will likely have broadband access for the first time, improvements have also been available to those who already have the service.

Marshall estimated the average broadband speed in the state has increased from 5.5 to 9.7Mbps, which is above the national average.

Vermont Public Radio surveys how the state is doing meeting Gov. Shumlin’s goal to see broadband service available to every Vermonter. (December 28, 2012) (2 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

33 New Hampshire Communities Getting DSL Expansion from FairPoint

Phillip Dampier November 20, 2012 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, FairPoint, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband Comments Off

FairPoint Communications will introduce DSL service across 33 New Hampshire communities that either have incomplete coverage or no broadband at all.

At least 4,000 homes and businesses will gain access with financial assistance from the FCC’s Connect America fund.

FairPoint says it has invested $189 million in network infrastructure since purchasing northern New England landlines from Verizon Communications. That investment has targeted broadband improvements through fiber middle mile networks and extended DSL service with Ethernet and DSLAM equipment. The last mile installation to individual homes and businesses requires a suitable return on investment. If a provider cannot recoup expenses within a few years, those failing the test will not receive service. The Connect America Fund covers some of the investment costs, bringing rural areas closer to the return expectations providers have.

FairPoint earlier promised to reach 95 percent of New Hampshire with broadband service, with similar goals in Maine and Vermont.

FairPoint customers in larger northern New England communities can also expect eventual speed upgrades as the company continues to work on deploying next generation DSL technology.

Cable competition in the region is spotty, with Comcast and Time Warner Cable providing the bulk of service, mostly in the largest communities.

The communities slated to see DSL service (or extended service into previously unserved areas) include:

Alexandria, Barrington, Bartlett, Canterbury, Concord, Conway, Cornish, Croydon, Dorchester, Dover, Durham, Effingham, Epping, Epsom, Franklin, Gilmanton, Goffstown, Grantham, Jackson, Lee, Litchfield, Manchester, Meredith, New Hampton, Nottingham, Orange, Ossipee, Pembroke, Richmond, Sanbornton, Strafford, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro.

ALEC Rock: How Big Corporations Pass the Laws They Write Themselves


ALEC Rock exposes the truth about how many of today’s bills are actually written and passed into law with the help of a shadowy, corporate-backed group known as the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC). Counted among its members are: AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, FairPoint Communications, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. ALEC works on elected members of state legislatures to deregulate phone and cable service, eliminate consumer protection/oversight laws, ban publicly-owned broadband networks, and let phone companies walk away from providing rural phone service at will.  (2 minutes)

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