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News Release
 
Commission Staff To U S WEST On New Switches: Put It In Writing
 
June 3, 1999 (1999-022)
 
Contacts: Ron Eachus, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Roger Hamilton, Commissioner 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Phil Nyegaard, Telecommunications Administrator, 503 378-6436; Ron Karten, Public Information Officer, 503 378-8962
 
Salem, Ore. – U S WEST Communications, Inc. has declined to commit in writing to new digital switches for the Roseburg, Grants Pass and Albany areas. Staff of the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) had requested that the company commit to installing the switches by the end of the year 2000. As a result, Commission staff will propose that the Commission order the company to do so at an upcoming public meeting.
 
"These upgrades are too important for anything less than a solid company commitment," said Phil Nyegaard, Administrator of the Commission’s Telecommunications Division. "And that’s what we’re asking for."
 
In a May 7 letter to the company, Commission staff said it would accept the company’s plan for case-by-case reimbursement for Roseburg area customers who had experienced excessive blocking – instead of a community-wide reimbursement -- if the company would also put in writing its commitment to install the new switches during calendar year 2000.
 
Staff insisted on a written commitment because, in reports concerning the Commission’s investigation of service quality issues in Roseburg, the company said, "U S WEST makes no representation or commitment – either expressed or implied – that the construction projects submitted to the commission will, in fact, be completed."
 
In declining to provide a written commitment, the company cited the possibility of changing priorities, unpredictable suppliers, and the difficulties of scheduling technicians.
 
"If the company has done the work of scheduling the upgrades and the supplier does not come through, that is something the Commission understands and can make allowances for," said Nyegaard. "But if the company simply changes its mind, that is something the Commission would take exception to."
 
The Commission has been disappointed in recent years that the company has failed to make commitments that would lead to improved service quality. In 1996, the Commission granted the company $14 million worth of accelerated depreciation based on the company’s plans to replace the analog switches with digital switches. The company has yet to do the work.
 
Since November of last year, U S WEST customers in Roseburg have complained about poor service throughout the community. Formal complaints about the company’s service were filed at the Commission from an area hospital, state and local police units and the U S Forest Service. The hospital and police complaints were potentially life-threatening.
 
At an April 8 public meeting in Roseburg sponsored by the Commission, service complaints came from companies as large as Roseburg Forest Products, an international wood products and information technology company, and from single residential customers noting that they were unable to reach 911 in an emergency. Companies reported on business losses due to generally clogged telephone lines and U S WEST’s failure to provide specifically needed facilities.
 
As a temporary measure in the wake of that outcry, the company updated the analog switch in the Roseburg area and promised to replace it with a more functional digital switch by the end of 2000 rather than waiting until 2003, as it had said it would during the Roseburg public meeting.
 
The Commission believes that earlier upgrades would have prevented on-going and anticipated problems experienced throughout the Roseburg, Grants Pass and Albany areas. Still, the company declined to provide a written commitment to install the switches, citing the possibility of changing priorities, unpredictable suppliers, and the difficulties of scheduling technicians.
 
Meanwhile, the Commission intends to proceed with developing an expedited process for providing billing credits to U S WEST customers in Roseburg who have had blockage problems.
 
 
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