On one side of the coin you have the Shumlin administration awarding FairPoint the State’s emergency 911 communications service contract. FairPoint Communications’ winning, low bid was $2.5 million less than those of two competing firms.The contract runs for five years and is worth $11 million. Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding is confident in the deal. Vtdigger.com reports:
[Spaulding] said FairPoint was the only bidder willing to commit to all of the state’s performance requirements, and that the state felt secure in its contractual protections.
Huh, the other bidding companies wouldn’t commit to meeting the state’s contract requirements? The five-year contract took effect last week on November 5.
Flip the coin and you find a different, much less assuring FairPoint, one with a long history of poor service, bankruptcy, and troubled labor relations in New England. Not just here in Vermont but many in Maine are experiencing outage problems.
David Tucker, executive director of the Enhanced 9-1-1 Board said he was aware of the residential service issues, but that the 9-1-1 service is a different product. Despite being under the management of the same company, he said he does not expect the emergency services to be subject to the same weaknesses.
However the Dept of Public Service says the state will open an investigation into the large number of complaints about poor service against FairPoint. Only a few years out of bankruptcy, the company is still struggling and trimming costs to become profitable. Management's pre-strike claims to have ramped up non-union and contingency workers to address any emergencies have proven wrong as longterm outages have become common.
Union workers at Fairpoint are now on strike in three states over management demands that members agree to another round of benefit and pension cuts. Since the strike began four weeks ago almost 250 service-related complaints have been made about the company. The volume of phone service problems has raised concerns about emergency medical response coverage.
James Porter, director of telecommunications with the Vermont Department of Public Service says […] he expects the state will launch a formal investigation into [Fairpoint's] service practices next month. “For years and years, the phone company has been subject to automatic penalties for failure to make service quality metrics. [Note: the state has no jurisdiction over broadband complaints]
Dept. of Public Services’ Porter adds that rather than impose a penalty, he would like to find the “root cause of a problem” and fix it, as companies view fines as “a cost of doing business”
In the recent past, the state of Vermont has given the company a little help handling penalties — their “cost of doing business.” In 2012 Vermont Public Service Board waived millions of dollars in accumulated poor service-related penalties for the company. The agreement, part of a restructuring plan, allowed $7 million in assessed unpaid penalties to be redirected by FairPoint for statewide broadband build-out.
Now with a little more Vermont help the coin comes up good for FairPoint. They squeeze concessions out of labor union members, provide poor service, bid low and then, as a reward, land a valuable state contract.
Heads they win — tails we lose?