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

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by William Boardman on July 18, 2012 at 11:34

    Smith offered a rebuttal, not a refutation. Common mis-usage. What this issue needs is some clear-headed, well-sourced, fact-based reporting….

    Full disclosure: Fairpoint still owes me money for payment after service cancelled.

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    • Thank you, Mr. Boardman, for the technical clarification. But, actually Woodstock Early Bird sticks with “refute”.

      Mr. Smith did not just “rebut” but actually showed something to be wrong, indicating “refute.” Mr. Brown’s letter said Fairpoint’s money came from the Vermont Telecommunications Agency. Mr. Smith came to say he was wrong, which Mr. Brown was. Smith refuted Mr. Brown’s information with the information that Fairpoint’s money came from the Public Service Board. Smith did not just address Brown in a rebuttal but actually refuted his information.

      Agreed on need for further reporting. WEB

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  2. As usual the Fair Point will get its way and receive all available funds while ECFiber waits for a miracle.

    Fair Points technology is as old as their way of thinking.

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  3. Posted by Diana Brown on July 18, 2012 at 12:28

    If we follow the money…..Is not money from the Vermont Service Board and/or money from the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (the VTA) from the same source, the taxpayers? You and you and you .. and me.

    To me the comments made by Chris Miller, Woodstock resident former ECFiber Woodstock delegate, and current Village Trustee go to the core of the issue.

    I should let you know that I am married to David Brown. He intended to be at the meeting, but was called away on business, just after the letter was submitted.

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  4. Posted by Chris Miller on July 19, 2012 at 11:53

    I am a user of Fairpoint’s DSL service, and for the most part it satisfies my needs. Fairpoint and other telecoms are doing a decent job and are trying hard to provide service that is “up to” something or other. Most residents over a certain age will find their service satisfactory, if they can get it.

    Heavy business users, institutions like libraries and schools, and my children, however, have hit the limits of what copper wire can ever provide. Optical fiber all the way to the user will increase capacities by many factors of ten, measured in Gigabits (so far) versus Megabits. Fairpoint is not providing this in our area, nor is any other major telecom provider, claiming, as Mr. Smith did at our Town Hall, that it is simply too expensive.

    ECFiber IS doing it, providing a network with unlimited capacity and future expandability for less cost to the consumer. Woodstock voters agreed to join ECFiber to provide this service for its residents, businesses and institutions, believing we could do better than what we were being offered. Residents of Barnard, among others, have seen that we can.

    The argument over the details of State money is a red herring. Sure, it would be nice to get some help from the State, and it would certainly speed things along, but asking the State to support its Towns and citizens over established business interests may be asking too much. If we have to do this without them, we will.

    By the way, I am not ECFiber’s representative for Woodstock, merely a true believer.

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    • Chris, appreciate this comment post and clarification of your status.

      Your comment moves the ball just a bit forward by explaining what is being provided currently vs. what could be provided-and what is absolutely required for serious business.

      If Woodstock is serious about attracting any other business than individual tourists it seems like a no-brainer to invest in the most advanced technology.

      It is technology that customers in Barnard and now via VTel in Hartland are getting, using and will soon use to spin circles around those without. WEB

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  5. Readers of this newsletter may be interested to peruse a collection of recent news articles related to the deployment of broadband services in Vermont. Visit the ECFiber blog at http://ecfiber.blogspot.com/.

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  6. My thanks to Julia for correcting her assertion that the Selectboard letter to Governor Shumlin had been “dumped.” It was not. As was made clear in the Woodstock Selectboard meeting of August 7, approval of the letter was merely tabled pending additional information from the ECFiber delegate (me) who was not able to attend.

    Since the original draft was writtent, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority has been busy disbursing its discretionary funds to various broadband providers (well, just FairPoint).

    A revised letter to Governor Shumlin reflecting the Selectboard’s opinion in this matter is expected out shortly.

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