PSC OKs FairPoint sale with conditions

GHENT–The state Public Service Commission last week provisionally approved the petition by Consolidated Communications Holdings, Inc. to merge with FairPoint Communications, Inc. After a public hearing in Greenport late last month, at which members of the community addressed concerns regarding the acquisition of FairPoint, Consolidated and FairPoint must formally agree to meet certain conditions to ensure the merger goes through.

FairPoint currently provides voice and DSL (digital subscriber line) internet service to much of eastern Columbia County.

Among the PSC’s conditions in the tentative decision issued June 14 is a requirement that local, customer-facing jobs in New York will stay at current levels for at least two years. The companies have also agreed to expand DSL service over the next three years to reach more customers, with plans to serve at least 300 more customer locations, especially in the Hudson Valley area.

One concern shared by local speakers at the public hearing was that the merger would result in increased prices, particularly if the plans for improved internet access over the coming years leads to higher costs for customers.

Representatives from Consolidated, an Illinois company that provides phone and internet services in the Midwest and other parts of the U.S., assured those present at the meeting that Columbia County residents can expect an improvement in their internet connections with no changes in services, rates, or terms and conditions in the near future. Finally, Consolidated and FairPoint have agreed to a $2-million letter of credit to be held until all conditions have been satisfied.

Assembly member Didi Barrett (D-106th), who had urged the PSC hold the hearing, said in a release that the PSC conditions “address the key concerns raised by residents.”

Congressman John Faso (R-19th) also supported the conditions in a letter to the PSC June 14.

A lack of internet service in rural areas is a problem faced by rural communities across the country at a time when the global economy increasingly affects life here. Everything from business transactions and consumer banking to personal communications and political discussions are conducted over the internet. Without reliable, high-speed service, many Hudson Valley communities will be left behind.

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress report, 39% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet connections as do over 40% of the nation’s school districts. State officials reported last year that Columbia County overall had some of the poorest internet service in the state.

Last August Governor Cuomo announced a multi-million-dollar investment in upgrading to broadband (high speed) internet service, starting in the county. The county also expects to see more broadband options resulting from the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications. That deal requires Charter to upgrade internet connection speeds in its franchise areas in Columbia County.

In its most recent quarterly report on the Consolidated website, ir.consolidated.com, the company said it expected to complete the deal with FairPoint by mid-2017.

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