Archive for July 18th, 2012

Fairpoint President Refutes ECFiber Claims…Selectboard Dumps Letter

Fairpoint Communications Vermont President Michael Smith suggested to the Woodstock Selectboard last night that a proposed letter to Governor Peter Shumlin from ECFiber concerning Vermont Telecommunications Authority monies was both incorrect and unfair.

The Woodstock Selectboard ruled it would pass on approving the letter since – after listening to Smith and comments from ECFiber representative Chris Miller as well as IT policy expert George Sadowsky – Board members said they did not have enough information to take a stand on the matter.

The letter to the Governor was submitted by ECFiber coordinator Dave Brown asking for the Selectboard stamp of approval in support of the locally-based fiber-optic connectivity network. The letter essentially said the Governor and the VTA should be called to task for funding large out-of-state corporations  — like Fairpoint —  for their connectivity projects while providing zero monies for  the 23 town consortium that makes up ECFiber Network. This EC Fiber group, with signed-off approval from town selectboards,  is trying to fund a fiber optic network throughout its 23 communities but is having difficulty in raising any money, particularly in Woodstock.

Smith, who said he rarely comes out for such meetings, said he felt obligated to do so, on behalf of his 500 employees after seeing a post summarizing ECFiber’s letter on Woodstock Early Bird that “made my blood boil.”  He said the letter was inaccurate as a recent $6.6 million used to fund a broadband expansion did not come from the Vermont Telecommunications Agency.  In fact, the Public Service Board, a quasi-judicial body, approved State of Vermont penalties against Fairpoint — to be paid by Fairpoint — related to service issues and its 2008 and 2009 takeover of Verizon.

In all, including the $6.6. million in Fairpoint-paid penalities,  Smith says the communications company is spending $90 million dollars to expand its state-of-the art IP-based fiber network to 19 communities in Vermont. “We have equivalent speeds to others that are out there at half the cost,” Smith said.

The Fairpoint president,  in what was clearly a heartfelt but full-on public relations appearance,  said he wanted to “lay out the facts’ and joked that he was in a position – despite having served under a different administration, Governor’s Jim Douglas’ — of actually saying “The Shumlin administration has done a terrific job” with its support of building out broadband in Vermont (and of supporting Fairpoint Communications in doing so.)

Woodstock resident George Sadowsky had some thoughts as well about the ECFiber letter the Selectboard was considering. He first identified himself as not having any connection to either Fairpoint or ECFiber but having a background in internet policy worldwide as well as at Northwestern and at NYU.  He first stated,” I would laugh at this letter…It doesn’t take into account technology or the scope of projects (in referring to those organizations that have garnered VTA monies).”

Sadowsky suggested what would be “sensible” is for the Woodstock Selectboard to write the State to ask “On what basis are subsidies being given out? Can you say how you are judging the various providers of those needs?”  He added, “This letter is unfair to Fairpoint and to other providers. It is unproductive.”

Finally, although Dave Brown, the author of the proposed letter to Governor Shumlin was not at the meeting, ECFiber representative Chris Miller was. He said he didn’t have technical details but would point out to everyone that ECFiber, “Is not some other. It is us. It is the 23 towns and boards of all those towns that have voted to support….We have voted to push this forward. ”

Miller said that regardless of where the State of Vermont money is coming from, “ECFiber is getting nothing.” He added, on a personal note, “I’m convinced ECFiber can do better: Let the competition begin.”

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Fairpoint Communications Press Release (relevant to the above discussion):

South Burlington, Vermont (June 28, 2012) – FairPoint has selected the 19 areas that will see new broadband Internet coverage from a $6.6 million investment over the next year.

The target community areas include unserved portions of the following: Bethel, Bradford, Brownington, Chelsea, Corinth, Dummerston, Eden, Fairlee, Guilford, Johnson, Pittsfield, Readsboro, Thetford, Vershire, Washington, West Fairlee and Weston.

“This is a major component to making Governor Shumlin’s ConnectVT initiative – universal broadband and expanded cell coverage by 2013 – a reality,” said Mike Smith, FairPoint state president for Vermont. “FairPoint has connected more Vermonters to broadband, spending nearly $90 million and adding more than 1,100 miles of new fiber. I can’t think of any other provider who has invested more of their own money to make broadband available to those previously unserved.”

When completed, more than 3,200 Vermonters will have fast broadband connections, 70 percent having 7Mbps speeds or better.

“The $6.6 million FairPoint has been required to invest in unserved areas is instrumental in reaching our goal,” said Karen Marshall, chief of Connect VT.

FairPoint selected the target communities from areas identified by Connect VT, using census block data to map unserved locations.

In February, the Vermont Public Service Board approved a plan that the Department of Public Service and FairPoint developed more than a year ago to require FairPoint to redirect penalties assessed from 2008, 2009 and 2010 and use them for a purpose that benefits Vermonters and serves the state’s larger goals, Smith said.

FairPoint expects the engineering and construction to begin immediately with communities coming online in 2013.

FairPoint Communications, Inc. (NasdaqCM: FRP) is a leading communications provider of Broadband Internet access, local and long-distance phone, television and other Broadband services to customers in communities across 18 states. Through its fast, reliable network, FairPoint delivers affordable data and voice networking communications solutions to residential, business and wholesale customers. FairPoint delivers VantagePointSM services through its resilient IP-based network in northern New England. This state-of-the-art network provides Ethernet connections that support video conferencing, e-learning and other broadband based applications. Additional information about FairPoint products and services is available at www.FairPoint.com

(Woodstock Early Bird is a small business client of Fairpoint Communications and has had excellent technical support from company representatives.  However, consistent speed and connectivity have been issues.)

If you would like to be a business sponsor of Woodstock  Early Bird contact: earlybirdtips@yahoo.com