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Vermont Lawmaker Seeks Greater FairPoint Oversight

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Yesterday, Fairpoint execs were grilled by regulators from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. The telecommunications company continues to be plagued with problems since taking over the land-line phone system from Verizon.

In the event FairPoint Communications files for bankruptcy as a way to restructure its debt and protect its assets, one state lawmaker is urging colleagues to form a tri-state authority to ensure consumers have a greater say in how the company delivers services.

State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) has floated the idea to both House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). They, in turn, have spoken with their legislative counterparts in Maine and New Hampshire to broach the idea.

So far, there has been no concrete action, but there is interest.

"I have spoken with my counterpart in New Hampshire, and we are trying to arrange a call where we have the Pro Tems, Speakers and majority leaders on the call to discuss our next steps and how we might take some regional legislative action," Smith told Seven Days. "This is not meant to overshadow what the Public Service Board is doing, but complement it."

The state has asked FairPoint to explain why it should be allowed to keep its certificate to conduct business in Vermont. The company had a deadline of noon today to respond, but the Public Service Board has given FairPoint an extra week to file its paperwork, said Beth Fastiggi, a FairPoint spokeswoman.

The tri-state authority would need Congressional approval, since its jurisdiction would cross state borders. Illuzzi is concerned that currently, the states can't truly work in a coordinated regulatory fashion, which is problematic since Fairpoint is not only the primary carrier for many parts of each state, but the backbone for other carriers as well.

"I don't wish them any ill will, but they are providing a crucial service to a lot of Vermonters and Vermont businesses, and those folks need to have a voice if and when FairPoint heads into bankruptcy court," said Illuzzi. "If they have to file Chapter 11, then the bankruptcy court is there essentially to protect the creditors, and I think we ought to have some entity that covers the customers."

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