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News Release
 
Commission Keeps Telephone Service Quality Standards High
 
June 9, 2000 (2000-029)
 
Contacts: Ron Eachus, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Roger Hamilton, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Bob Valdez, Public Information Officer, 503 378-8962
 
Salem, OR - The Oregon Public Utility Commission today rejected the contention of US WEST and other telephone companies that Senate Bill 622 required the PUC to lessen service quality standards. Instead the Commission adopted rules, that with a few exceptions, maintain Oregon's high standards in existing rules.
 
"If the legislature was requiring us to lower service quality standards, they sure kept it secret from the public," Commission Chairman Ron Eachus said. "They required us to review our standards, and we did. With the exception of US WEST, companies are meeting existing standards and we saw no reason to lower the bar."
 
The standards address areas such as how quickly orders must be filled; the speed and reliability with which calls are connected; how soon repairs are made and how quickly business office calls are answered.
 
SB 622 requires the standards apply to all telecommunications in Oregon providing local access regardless of their size.
 
Telephone companies argued that SB 622 required the Commission to set standards lower than existing rules and that competition should police the market. US WEST also claimed PUC staff shouldn't use existing rules as a basis for new rules.
 
The Commission said the legislature only required it to consider certain factors, including national data on similar standards, and that after doing so it was not in the public interest to lower standards.
 
In reviewing national data, PUC staff found that many states were taking steps to make their standards more stringent and that Oregon rules were consistent with recommendations from a Regional Oversight Committee formed by the Commissions in the 14 states served by US WEST. Other considerations include normal operating conditions, the historic purpose for which the telecommunications network was constructed, and technological improvements and trends.
 
The Commission said the standard for network blocking should remain unchanged. Properly dialed calls must go through switches 99 percent of the time. Blocking, which results in a "fast busy" signal or message of all circuits busy, has been a major source of concern for the Commission in recent years. Network blocking has been especially troublesome for the communities of Roseburg and Grants Pass.
 
Current rules say a company should have no more than four held orders per 1,000 that are not filled within 5 days. The new standard relaxes the threshold to 5 orders per 1,000 that are not filled within 6 days. In consideration of increased demand for lines caused by the Internet, the Commission eased the standard.
 
On held orders, US WEST recommended a proposed 70 percent increase in the allowable level.
 
Commissioner Joan Smith said, "As we go forward in a competitive marketplace the Commission will be more and more involved in service quality issues."
 
Commissioner Roger Hamilton praised staff for the hard work that went into drafting the rules. "These rules reflect Oregon's strong commitment to service quality. And will make Oregon a more attractive place to live and do business."
 
The new rules also require companies to submit a remedy plan to the Commission if they are found to be out of compliance with the standards.
 
SB 622 also gave the Commission authority to seek up to $50,000 in fines per violation through the courts.
 
The Commission also has the option to exempt all carriers in an exchange if it finds that competition exists and service quality is unlikely to deteriorate.
 
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