Continuing Phone Problems?

Telephone Update:

Based on the problems Landaff residents had over Christmas with their telephones, the Select Board sent a letter to Fairpoint, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), and the Governor’s office detailing the issues we experienced.  The text of the letter is included at the end of this message.

The Select Board shared with me a response from the PUC which said that the New Hampshire Legislature in 2012 declared that there was now sufficient “competition” in the telephone space that they no longer needed to regulate Fairpoint, and they removed all regulation authority except for the rate “for the most basic levels of service”.

In the meantime, a few people in town have reported having continuing problems with their telephones.  If you are affected, there are two things you can do:

  1. Call Fairpoint every time there’s a problem.  If your problem has not been fixed, call them over and over.  DO NOT expect action from them because someone else has called.  They need to hear from EVERY household affected, and they need to hear over and over if the fix does not occur quickly.  When asked in November why they hadn’t declared a town-wide outage and gotten a crew working quickly, they replied, “we’ve only gotten 25 calls!”  When you consider that they serve urban areas where a single neighborhood might be more than a thousand homes, you can see why it takes all the calls Landaff can generate to even get them to notice there’s a problem.
  2. Contact your representatives in the State Legislature and let them know there is NO competition for phone service in much of the North Country.  The Legislature needs to understand that conditions in Concord and Manchester are not representative of conditions in Landaff.  The Legislature acted prematurely in deregulating telephone service, and some solution (perhaps setting a standard for a competitive market place and re-instituting regulations where that standard is not met?) should be found for the state’s rural areas.

Here are Landaff’s legislators:

Representatives:

District 03:  Vicki Schwaegler, 586 Indian Pond Road, Orford, NH  03777-4332
Phone: (603)717-0767
EmailVictoria.Schwaegler@leg.state.nh.us

District 15: David W. Binford,  241 Porter Road, Bath, NH  03740
Phone: (603)787-8028
Emaildavid.binford@leg.state.nh.us

Senate:District: 01: Jeff Woodburn, State House, Room 120, 107 North Main Street, Concord, NH 03301
Phone: 603-271-3207
Email: Jeff.Woodburn@leg.state.nh.us

If you’re not a person who “does politics”, let me encourage you.  So many people stay silent about their problems that a genuine letter from a regular, non-political person has more impact than you might think.  And a mailbox or email inbox full of them is even more powerful.

Submitted by — Florence Webb

Here is the letter sent by the Select Board:

To: Fairpoint Communications
New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission
Office of the Governor, State of New Hampshire
Date: January 3, 2018
Re: utility outages in rural areas

For the second time in two months Landaff is dealing with a widespread and long lasting phone outage, and Fairpoint’s policies and practices are again making things worse.

Beginning on Friday December 22, about 125 of Landaff’s 240 homes lost all ability to receive calls and were able to place outgoing calls only intermittently.  They had no access to voicemail, and people trying to call them just heard endless ringing.  The affected homes are all served by the same network box on Cemetery Road.  Town Hall, the Highway Department, and the Volunteer Fire Department were out as well.

People began to realize something was wrong by Dec 23, and started calling Fairpoint (which almost always requires driving to an area where there is either a working phone or a cell signal) to report their phones out.  Many callers were told theirs was the first and only trouble report Fairpoint had received from Landaff; this inaccuracy was repeated day after day.  In one case the same person was told twice, several days apart, that there were no prior trouble reports – including the one she had made herself!

Most callers were told there was ‘no outage’ even though callers tried to inform Fairpoint personnel that others were similarly afflicted (can the phone company not tell when a whole area is without phone service??). Since there was ‘no outage’, callers were told not to expect any repair action until after the holiday weekend.  Fairpoint personnel in many cases advised callers to wait for a call back (a good trick when the phone doesn’t work) or directed them to use their cell phones. (Another quaint notion assuming the presence of cell towers.  Which there are not.)  We have documented cases of Fairpoint telling individuals that there was no outage even after the repair crew had learned that a routing circuit board had failed.  Working in deep cold, that crew briefly restored service on the afternoon of December 26.  But within 20 minutes the 125 affected homes lost all phone service – no dial tone, no calling in or out.  Around 2 pm on December 27 there was another short period of restored service followed within minutes by another loss of dial tone to about 47 homes in the northeast part of the town.  At that point three quarters of the town had been without working service for five days while the last quarter was still without any service.

Late on Friday afternoon, December 29, most or all of Landaff’s phones finally came back to life. Even during the last two days of the outage, some people calling in trouble reports were told there was no outage, no other complaints, and that only their own house was without service; and they were told that single-house problems would not be scheduled for repair until after the holiday weekend. Fortunately, the repairs were completed on Friday December 29 so folks were spared a second incommunicado weekend.

It seems to us the issues we continue to see in Landaff are these:

1) Fairpoint’s physical equipment is old and increasingly unreliable; and

2) Neither Fairpoint’s customer service systems nor their physical networks seem able to detect outages affecting small widely scattered communities, and even when outages have been detected the information is not reliably shared with customer service personnel;

3) Fairpoint doesn’t consider landline phone outages, at least in small communities, as critical or important. They do not appear to understand the potential impact of these outages on health and safety in rural areas like ours.

In the densely populated parts of New Hampshire, there are overlapping services and options if someone needs assistance.  Along with landline telephones there are cell phones, cable telephones, nearby neighbors, Town or City fire stations and other staffed emergency service locations.  If a person has a fire or tree on the house or medical emergency, and their landline is dead, there are at least sometimes other ways to request emergency assistance.  And even if the last resort is driving for help, cities have multiple routes to and from most locations.

In a great deal of Northern New Hampshire, there are no cell signals (no matter how the coverage maps appear), no cable, no next-door neighbors.  Many homes are served by only a single dead end road.  If a tree falls across the road or weather makes travel treacherous, one of our residents could be trapped.  Many of our residents are eldery and alone in their homes  Quite a few rural towns get fire protection, police coverage, and ambulance service from outside their borders and may have no emergency services of any kind that can be reached other than by telephone.

The reality is that rural residents are  much more dependent on a landline telephone than the residents of Concord or Manchester.

Up here, if we don’t have a dial tone, we are quite literally on our own.

We ask you to evaluate whether the rules, regulations, and required procedures you have in place are adequate to protect the landline access of rural populations.  And we ask you to consider making the necessary changes to address that issue as quickly as possible.

Thank you.

Valerie Kimber-Roy
Errol S. Peters
Michael M. Ransmeier

 

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