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News Release
 
Commission Declares U S WEST's 
Service Quality Data Is Public Information

 
January 4, 2000 (2000-001)
 
Contacts: Ron Eachus, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Roger Hamilton, Commissioner 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Phil Nyegaard, Administrator, Telecom. Division, 503 378-6436
 
Salem, OR - The Oregon Public Utility Commission today denied US WEST’s assertion that its service quality performance data was confidential, saying that the company had not proved its case and that the public interest warranted making the information available to customers and the general public.
 
"All customers were entitled to know the quality of local exchange service provided in their community as well as other communities by their telecommunications utility," the Commission concluded in its order.
 
"If service quality information is kept secret from customers, they have no way of knowing the source of their service problems, and they are effectively denied the avenues of redress prescribed by law."
 
Since April of 1996 the Commission has required US WEST to submit monthly reports on its service quality. But, after the Commission opened an investigation last March into the status of US WEST’s switches, the company began designating its monthly service quality reports as confidential, specifically claiming that the data on its 77 wire centers was a "trade secret" and exempt from disclosure. Last August, PUC staff asked the company to justify the claim to confidentiality.
 
Wire centers are the heart of the network where calls are routed. Among the data reported is the number of trouble reports per 100 lines compared with the standard of two per month set by the Commission. In its last report, only 23 of the 77 wire centers met the standard.
 
The Commission said the data was not a proprietary product or process and the company did not produce any affidavits or evidence to substantiate its claim. It concluded that even if the data were trade secrets, "the public interest in access to the information clearly outweighs the company’s asserted confidentiality interest."
 
Withholding the data from public scrutiny threatens the safety, health and welfare of the public, the Commission said. "If individuals, businesses, emergency service providers, and government agencies are denied access to information, they will be unable to anticipate and respond to problems with their telecommunications service."
 
Commission Chairman Ron Eachus likened withholding the service quality information to having your doctor say "there is something wrong with your heart, but I am not going to let you know how bad it is or tell you what changes to make – and by the way, please pay at the front desk on your way out."
 
The Commission rejected the company’s claim that the data had intrinsic value, calling it "dubious" in light of chronic service quality problems. "The company’s failure to make capital investments to avoid serious service quality problems discloses that U S WEST has paid little or no heed to the information included in its service quality reports," the Commission said.
 
U S WEST also asserted that release of the data put the company at competitive disadvantage, enabling competitors to target US WEST locations around the state. However, the Commission said factors such as population density and other economic considerations were likely to be the major factors determining competitor’s entry into the marketplace.
 
The order pointed out that US WEST’s service quality problems have been a matter of record for some time, but the company still maintains a virtual monopoly for local exchange service in its territory.
 
"Not only has the company failed to explain how this information suddenly became confidential, it has failed to explain why competitors have not previously taken advantage of that data to enter the numerous U S WEST service areas in Oregon where service is substandard," the Commission said.
 
U S WEST also asserted release of the data would harm communities by discouraging business from investing in areas with service quality problems. But the Commission also strongly rejected that argument, saying "apparently, U S WEST believes that business customers would be better off if they are left in the dark about the service quality they can expect to receive."
 
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