FairPoint offers to speed up DSL customers

Some FairPoint Internet customers are getting the option to buy faster service under what might be called an interim tweak to the DSL network that the company bought from Verizon.

“We’re using some enhanced equipment to provide the increase . . . on the existing network,” said company spokesman Jill Wurm.

The upgrade is not part of FairPoint’s long-term plans to change to a new type of network they say they will provide.

Notices were sent recently to customers in a number of towns in the state, including Hudson, Milford and Hollis, touting the Premium High-Speed Internet Service. It promises download speeds of up to 7.1 megabits per second, more than twice the existing DSL maximum.

Importantly for FairPoint, that new figure tops the 6 mbps maximum claimed by Comcast for its Internet service.

In New Hampshire, as in much of the country, the telephone and cable TV companies are locked in a fierce battle for Internet customers – a battle in which higher speeds are a major selling point.

FairPoint’s premium service starts at $39.99 per month, compared to $17.99 for the cheapest current DSL.

Not all FairPoint customers are eligible – as with current DSL, you must live within a certain distance of a telephone company central office to get the service.

In March, FairPoint bought Verizon’s telephone and wired Internet service in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine for $2.4 billion, part of the biggest telecommunications change in northern New England history.

FairPoint is still in the process of transitioning that network to its control. The biggest step will come later this year, when customers will have to change their e-mail and Web site addresses.

Verizon Wireless still operates in the state; FairPoint has no wireless telephone system.

The new premium Internet service is not part of FairPoint’s plan to transition the copper-line Internet network in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine to an Internet Protocol system. It claims that system will eventually allow downloads of up to 25 mbps – almost four times the new maximum using existing wires.

This transition is key to FairPoint’s business plan. It needs more income from Internet customers to make up for the slow decline in landline telephone usage that still forms the bulk of its business, and higher speeds are needed to handle the streaming video and files that are key to attracting those customers.

The new DSL service will not affect customers in Nashua and a few other parts of the state that have fiber optic lines to the home – the service that Verizon called FiOS and which FairPoint calls FAST, for Fiber Access Speed Technology.

FAST speeds can go as high as 30 mbps but the service costs considerably more than DSL.