By a partisan 3-2 vote, the FCC approved the sale of Verizon’s landline telephony operations in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire to FairPoint Communications, asserting that the $2.7 billion deal poses no competitive concerns and is “likely to result in accelerated broadband deployment in the three-state region.” Wednesday’s ruling came as regulators in Maine approved the transaction with conditions that, among other things, require FairPoint to cut dividends and sell $150 million in assets if it does not achieve a specified debt ratio by 2012. Verizon and FairPoint still also need the consent of regulators in New Hampshire and in Vermont, where, last month, the Vermont Public Service Board (VPSB) rejected the sale on the grounds that FairPoint lacked the financial means to operate the network facilities it is acquiring from Verizon. (This week, FairPoint reached a tentative settlement with the Vermont regulators that reportedly addresses the VPSB’s concerns and is expected to result in VPSB approval.) Insiders report that the FCC’s action was influenced, in part, by FairPoint’s promise to spend $52.4 million to expand broadband deployment by 2010. While acknowledging that FairPoint would “assume a higher level of debt than either of the companies absent the merger,” the FCC’s Republican majority agreed ultimately with FairPoint’s representation “that it will have adequate cash flows to support its investment plans and service debts.” In a dissenting statement, Commissioner Michael Copps cast doubt on FairPoint’s ability to live up to its broadband and other commitments, warning: “there is sizable information in the record to show that FairPoint may be limited by the terms of their agreement.” Copps was joined in dissent by his Democratic colleague, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Notwithstanding objections raised by Copps and Adelstein, the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance praised the FCC’s decision as “critically important not only to consumers living in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but to all Americans living in rural America and to the companies that serve them.”