PORTLAND, Maine — Regulators on Tuesday gave FairPoint Communications permission to stop signing up new customers for regulated landline service in Scarborough, Gorham, Waterville, Kennebunk and Cape Elizabeth.
The approval follows a law passed last year allowing regulators to gradually shrink the list of places where it requires FairPoint to provide basic landline service, or POLR service, to any customer who requests it.
Bangor, Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Lewiston, Sanford and South Portland were the first areas where regulators freed FairPoint from the service requirement.
The company argued that those areas had enough unregulated competitors to ensure customers have access to telecommunications services and that maintaining its mandatory lines there were an unnecessary burden.
In the five new areas where it’s freed from the requirement, the company had to prove to regulators that it met service quality standards for the two prior quarters.
The law established that the company can request elimination of the POLR requirement in five more towns later this year and another five as early as February 2018.
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The law doesn’t mean FairPoint will drop landline service in those areas or cut off current landline customers. In any areas removed, the company has to provide an additional year of price-controlled service to existing POLR customers. After that, it has to seek further state approvals to reduce or discontinue service to landline customers in areas where it previously was the provider of last resort.
In those areas where FairPoint will still be required to provide landline service, the law caps its rates at $20 per month and increases would be capped at 5 percent annually.
The company had about 21,000 POLR customers in 2015, according to the latest annual report from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The changes come as the company pursues a $1.5 billion sale to the Illinois-based Consolidated Communications, pending regulatory approval. The shareholders for both companies approved the deal late last month.
FairPoint secured the offer after emerging from the country’s longest labor dispute of 2015 and winning its legislative battle to wean itself of mandatory landline requirements.