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News Release
 
Commission Directs Qwest Service Quality Fines Toward Equipment Upgrades
 
April 6, 2001 (2001 - 015)
 
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 has decided to earmark $725,000 in service quality fines against Qwest (formerly U S WEST) to replace all remaining analog carrier systems within the company's Oregon territory.
 
The project will replace older technology that prevented customers, largely in rural areas, from receiving faster Internet connections and custom calling features.
 
The company incurred the statutory fines last year for failing to meet various service quality standards set in Senate Bill 622.
 
"I am very pleased that Qwest has kept its commitment to upgrade its facilities and improve service," Commissioner Joan Smith said. "I am even more pleased that the penalty money could be used to upgrade facilities for customers who would have had to wait years for advanced services."
 
Commission Chairman Ron Eachus voted against the proposal saying the fines should go to credits for ratepayers in the communities affected by service quality problems. "This fills the gaps in service, but it benefits only a few customers," he said "and most of them aren't in areas that endured poor service quality."
 
Qwest's engineers estimate the cost to replace remaining analog carriers systems will be $780,000. The actual cost could go higher. Qwest officials promised to pay for the whole amount.
 
The decision to spend the fines on upgrades was made in the context of an encouraging trend of improving service quality by Qwest over the past year, as well as an aggressive program by the company to upgrade its system.
 
Commissioner Roger Hamilton said, "Qwest has already fixed the problems that caused the fines to be imposed. These targeted investments will provide access for customers left standing on the shoulder of the information highway."
 
The Commission considered various bill credits to return the money ranging from dividing the refund among all Qwest customers to targeting the refund to areas that experienced poor service quality. However, Commission staff said such bill credits would be small and have a short-term effect. Commissioners Joan Smith and Roger Hamilton agreed to use the targeted investment approach. Commission Chairman Ron Eachus favored the refund option.
 
Service quality standards for which the company was fined include trouble report rate, network blockage, and access to the sales office.
 
 
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