FairPoint Net service a sore point? You just might get a credit

The thousands of FairPoint customers who have faced e-mail and other Internet problems for almost two weeks may get some break on their bill as a result.

“We have recommended to FairPoint that they offer compensation to customers who have been inconvenienced by e-mail problems,” Kate Bailey, director of telecommunications for the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, said Thursday.

“We are investigating,” the possibility of compensation, said FairPoint spokeswoman Jill Wurm.

The PUC did not make recommendations about the form of any compensation, but a one-time reduction in bills would be the most likely possibility.

The recommendation was made earlier this week.

>>Fairpoint Watch<< FairPoint is still facing a heavy load of customer phone calls and online queries to handle problems resulting from its takeover of Verizon systems. The calls began soon after midnight Jan. 30, when FairPoint started what is called the "cutover," in which it moved all systems operations from Verizon's hardware and software to its own. This switch, which was delayed twice while FairPoint got ready, is considered one of the biggest such moves in New Hampshire history. The heavily regulated telephone side of operations seems to have made the cutover without a hitch, but Internet service, which by federal law is not regulated, has seen a variety of problems. This left tens of thousands of FairPoint's 285,000 online customers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine stranded for days, unable to access e-mail, personal Web pages, Usenet discussion groups or, in cases involving dial-up accounts, to even access the Internet at all. If problems that serious had affected phone service, the PUC undoubtedly would have mandated immediate repairs, under threat of heavy fines. The PUC's authority in this case is unclear, however, because of the unregulated nature of Internet service. The North Carolina-based firm spent $2.2 billion to buy Verizon's 1.6 million landlines in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, including its fiber-optic broadband service in southern New Hampshire.