The state says thousands of Vermonters who lost telephone service in recent months should have received credit on their bills from FairPoint Communications.
At issue is whether the company has violated a Vermont Public Service Board rule that requires land line telephone providers to give automatic refunds in the form of billing credits to customers whose service has been interrupted for more than 24 hours.
The rule states, in part, “the credit will be provided to customers who contact the carrier reporting the outage and to customers that the carrier knows are affected by the outage."
But FairPoint has told the Public Service Board the credits are only given to customers who report an outage and then make a follow up call to a service representative.
In February, members of the Public Service Board questioned FairPoint’s Vermont President Beth Fastiggi about the credit policy. Board member John Burke asked Fastiggi whether, in cases where it's clear a service problem took more than 24 hours to repair, the company automatically credits a customer. “The customer calls us … so that we can determine the proper amount of the credit,” Fastiggi explained.
State Telecommunications Director Jim Porter says he reads the rule to mean the follow up call should not be required. “If they are aware of an outage because a customer has called in and created a ticket with FairPoint for repair, I’m not sure why it would require a second call on the part of the customer in order to get a credit,” says Porter.
Testimony filed by the Public Service Department with the board states that in the last six months of 2014, a total of 10,611 Vermont FairPoint customers who did not make a follow up call did not receive credit they were owed.
In documents filed with the Public Service Board, FairPoint says it believes it is meeting the requirements of the rule. The company says it does not have the ability to provide automatic credits for service delays without hearing from the customers.
Porter says FairPoint’s policy on issuing service delay credits has only come to light in the wake of the problems that occurred following an October strike by company workers.
The Public Service Department says FairPoint has not attempted to make customers aware of the availability of credits for service delays. There is no requirement that the company do so.
In a statement, FairPoint says it can’t discuss matters currently before the Public Service Board. But the company says customers who think they may be eligible for an out of service credit should call FairPoint’s customer service department.
In testimony filed with the Public Service Board, FairPoint says it issued 2,848 out of service customer bill credits during the last six months of 2014, totaling $56,909.
The board is investigating FairPoint service delays and an E911 system outage last November.