Regulatory hearings began Wednesday on FairPoint Communications’ reorganization plan as the company goes through the complex bankruptcy process.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission plans two days of hearings on FairPoint’s petition seeking PUC approval of its bankruptcy plan and modifications to the commission’s 2008 order approving FairPoint’s $2.3 billion purchase of Verizon’s landline and Internet operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

More hearings are scheduled before regulators in New Hampshire and Vermont.

They’re considered important steps as FairPoint works its way through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan filed in October.

The hearings, along with a hearing that is scheduled in court next week on FairPoint’s supplemental bankruptcy plan, show that the company is making progress in its reorganization, said Maine Public Advocate Dick Davies.

“Slowly but surely, all the piece that will become part of the final plan are emerging,” Davies said.

Hurt by debt and operational problems that led customers to defect, FairPoint filed for voluntary bankruptcy after agreeing on a deal with key lenders that would lower its debt from $2.7 billion to $1 billion and sharply cut its interest expenses.

As part of the process, FairPoint filed its reorganization plan and petitions seeking modifications from its original agreements with the Maine PUC, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission and the Vermont Public Service Board.

Hearings are Monday through Wednesday in Vermont and May 24-28 in New Hampshire.

Staff members of the boards, along with public advocates in each of the three states, have agreed to the plan. But it still needs approval from the regulatory boards.

In Maine, FairPoint wants to delay the deadline from April until December on when it must complete the first phase of its broadband expansion plans. It also wants to lower the percentage of lines in Maine — from 90 to 87 percent — that would be capable of carrying broadband by the end of March 2013.

In New Hampshire, the company wants to push back its deadline from April to December on when it will be able to offer broadband to 85 percent of its customers, but is not seeking changes on its five-year goals.

In Vermont, the original order stipulated that FairPoint provide 100 percent broadband availability to half of its exchanges by the end of 2010. The company is now seeking a six-month extension and to have to provide broadband to only 95 percent of the lines in half of the exchanges, with the remaining 5 percent to be built on demand.

FairPoint officials said regulatory staff members have agreed to the changes in all three states, but the regulatory boards must still sign on.


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