Monday, August 31, 2009

Shea-Porter Shows Her True Colors

You know someone's in deep doo-doo when even Glenn Reynolds is piling on.

In this case Representative Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH1) is on the receiving end of tactics she used against her predecessor, former Congressman Jeb Bradley. Her reactions show she can dish it out but obviously can't take it, having a constituent arrested at one of two town hall meetings she held recently.

This is a curious re-election strategy, especially for a Representative who made her name by bird-dogging her former Congressman at his town-hall forums. Consistency isn’t Carol Shea-Porter’s strong suit, apparently, as she demonstrates in [a] clip from the meeting she finally held with constituents after dodging them for most of the month. When one of her constituents challenges the presence of union enforcers in the crowd, Shea-Porter asks for police intervention.


I’ve watched this video a couple of times, and I still can’t figure out why the police took this man out of the room. He was actually less disruptive than the woman behind him. He challenged Shea-Porter on the appearance of SEIU protesters in the room, one of whom got up and disrupted his question. When the first man then challenged the residency of the SEIU rep, police swooped in and removed him.

Now Hampshire also reports that the man they removed is Carl Tomanelli — a retired policeman.

Shea-Porter has also shown her true stripes, disparaging protesters outside her town hall meeting venues as “tea-baggers”, a sexually explicit term no member of Congress should use to describe constituents. She has also made known she didn't consider military families that support the war in Iraq as her constituents, nor those of us that didn't vote for her. So much for representing the people in her congressional district. (She's made the mistake of pissing off the Blue Star and Gold Star Mothers here in New Hampshire. That won't go over well come the 2010 elections.)

I'm sad to say this condescending effete snob is my representative. On more than one occasion I have written to her (using both snail-mail and e-mail) with my viewpoints on certain issues going before Congress and not once has her office responded. I guess I'm just one of “those people”, one she figures she can ignore because I'm not really one of her constituents. I didn't vote for her and I support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which means she figures she can safely ignore me and those like me.

She's wrong.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cross Border Tax Grab Fails Again

It appears there are still some common sense jurists still presiding in the People's Republic of Taxachusetts.

Earlier today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the Commonwealth could not force New Hampshire retailers to collect Massachusetts sales tax on tires sold in New Hampshire to Massachusetts residents.

The court's decision was another shot fired in a long standing 'feud' between the two states, one specifically dealing with sales taxes. Massachusetts has a 6.25% sales tax while New Hampshire has none. The recently raised sales tax (from 5% to 6.25%) has goaded even more Bay Staters to cross the border into New Hampshire when they make purchases of higher priced goods to avoid paying the tax.

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue filed suit against Town Fair Tire, demanding the new Hampshire outlets collect Massachusetts sales tax on all sales to Massachusetts residents. Both Town Fair Tire and the State of New Hampshire responded, with the state legislature passing legislation making it illegal for other states to force New Hampshire retailers to collect taxes on sales to their residents.

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue's argument before the court used as evidence 313 sales invoices from the 'offending' Town Fair Tire outlets as proof of tax liability. But the court, in its wisdom, said the invoices “weren't enough under state law to presume the tires were used in Massachusetts.”

The text of the court's decision, minus footnotes and case citations, can be seen at the first link above (scroll down).

Monday, August 24, 2009

FairPoint's Troubles Just Beginning

FairPoint Communications is in the news again, and not in a good way.

Local news outlets report an anonymous e-mail from a FairPoint “insider” alleges FairPoint “misrepresented test data” showing they were ready to take over operations from Verizon in northern New England.

FairPoint's cut-over to its independent systems began Jan. 30, 10 months after it acquired the landline business from Verizon in the three northern New England states. It leased computers and equipment from Verizon during the transition period leading up to cut-over. After the cut-over, FairPoint experienced delays in answering consumers' phone calls and processing orders for wholesale customers. There were also billing problems and other concerns.

An e-mail to the Vermont Public Service Board alleged that tests observed by Liberty Consulting Group on behalf of the three northern New England states were fakes -- not real-time, live demonstrations.

The attorney general offices of all three northern New England states are investigating the allegations.

Considering the troubles FairPoint customers have suffered since the cut-over from Verizon I have little problem believing the allegation. Customers haven't been receiving bills, have been unable to add, change, or terminate their phone service. Service calls takes weeks, if not months to complete. These problems have caused FairPoint to lose 13% of their customers over this past year.

The anonymous e-mail states FairPoint wasn't really ready for the cut-over.

In his original e-mail, sent Aug. 14 to regulators, the writer, who called himself "David Unavailable," wrote:

"As January neared and it appeared to everyone on site in Atlanta that there would be another delay, suddenly Peter Nixon (FairPoint's president) and Gene Johnson (its then-CEO) made the announcement that the cut to the new systems would take place at the end of January and the relationship with Verizon would end. Most people were stunned as it did not appear feasible."

In his later note to the AP, the writer said FairPoint had a strong incentive to complete the cutover: It was paying monthly fees to Verizon for continuing to use its system after the sale between the two companies closed. This was confirmed by a report filed by Liberty with state regulators.

If these allegations are true, then the people of northern New England were taken for $2.3 billion (the sale price of Verizon's landline assets) and will end up paying the price for the duplicitous actions of FairPoint's executives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

FairPoint Communications To Face The Music

FairPoint Communications is sinking deeper into the abyss, with complaints skyrocketing even as it is losing market share.

All three northern New England states have been having problems with FairPoint after control of Verizon's landline assets were transferred in full to FairPoint early this year. So far FairPoint has lost 130,000 customers since it purchased Verizon's northern New England assets last year. Regulators in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have already held hearings about FairPoint's problems and next month they will hold a joint session to get answers from FairPoint executives about its ongoing and seemingly unfix-able problems.

When insurance companies like AIG and institutions like Bank of America got in financial trouble Congress deemed them too big to fail.

Perhaps on a smaller scale, regulators in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire may be confronted with a similar dilemma. What happens if FairPoint is shut down or fatally fails to deliver promised services?

And that's exactly the problem. What happens if FairPoint loses its right to provide phone and data services in Vermont? What happens in all three states in FairPoint goes under and there isn't another provider waiting in the wings to take over? A state-financed bailout certainly isn't in the cards as all three states are financially strapped.

When I first heard about the potential sale of Verizon's sale of their northern New England assets, I thought it might be a good move because Verizon had already informed all three states they would not be further deploying their FiOS Fiber To The Home (FTTH) technology. FiOS had made some inroads in the more densely populated southern tiers of New Hampshire and Maine, but Verizon abruptly stopped construction of their network and put their wireline (landline) assets up for sale. I'd hoped a new company would pick up where Verizon had left off.

But once details of the sale became available I became skeptical, seeing a much smaller and undercapitalized company – FairPoint – taking on the assets of a much larger company. FairPoint also announced they would not be deploying FTTH broadband but would instead deploy DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, an older and less effective broadband technology. This told me they didn't have and weren't likely to get the capital necessary to deploy FTTH. This meant that northern New England could easily become a broadband hinterland, being left behind the rest of the nation (with all due respect to the cable companies, even they can't match the capabilities FTTH provides unless they also deploy some form of FTTH).

As time when on it became quite apparent FairPoint was going to pay far too much for Verizon's assets - $2.7 billion – and the three states agreed, forcing a renegotiation of the selling price to $2.3 billion. It was my belief then, as it is now, that FairPoint still paid far too much for what they got.

Now they're having problems paying their bills. It's quite possible they will default on a loan interest payment due this coming October.

This not how a telecommunications company should operate.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Hampshire Is Not Fiscally Responsible

It's ironic that Governor John Lynch is touting New Hampshire to other states as an example of fiscal responsibility. Ironic because it isn't true.

In the face of a deep national recession, New Hampshire stands as an example for other states in crafting a budget that makes tough cuts and lowers spending, while protecting essential services and avoiding major new taxes.

Instead, the Legislature raised existing taxes and fees, in some cases adversely affecting 45,000 small businesses in the state at a time when they could least afford it. (Hey, there's a recession on and business is way down, meaning income is down.)

The state did not lower spending...unless you call over $1.2 billion (~13%) in additional spending compared to the previous budget “lowering” spending.

We produced a budget that makes cuts by making changes to just about every area of state government and sets state government on a path to greater reform. Overall, state spending is down about 1 percent.

“Down 1 percent”? Maybe compared to the original proposed budget (an increase of 13% instead of 14%), but not when compared to the previous budget.

The governor and the legislature had more than enough opportunities to truly trim the budget and minimize the burden to the taxpayers in New Hampshire. They had more than enough time to look at the projected revenues and to craft a budget that fit within the constraints of those revenues. Instead they reversed the order, putting together a budget and only then looking to see if there would be enough money to pay for it. When it became apparent the revenues wouldn't come close to being able to fund the proposed spending, the legislature raised taxes and fees that hit the taxpayers at a time when they could least afford it.

Both the governor and the legislature failed the people of New Hampshire. We expected an austere budget, even if it meant laying off state employees and a reduction is services. What we got instead was a crap sandwich that we were expected to swallow whole and then say “Please, sir, may we have another?”