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News Release
Commission Fears Roseburg Telephone Problems
Repeat In Grants Pass

April 16, 1999 (1999-016)
Contacts: Ron Eachus, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Roger Hamilton, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Ron Karten, Public Information Officer, 503 378-8962
Salem, Ore. – The Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) today said it was increasingly concerned that the community of Grants Pass and surrounding areas will face the same type of telephone call blockage problems recently experienced in Roseburg.
The Commission said it had already received 25 "circuits busy" complaints this month about the telephone service provided by U S WEST Communications, Inc. in the Grants Pass exchange. Complaints increased from four in January and six in February to 23 in March.
When there is insufficient capacity in the system call blocking results and the customer receives a "circuits busy" signal.
The Commission said it would send its telecommunications engineer to Grants Pass to test and inspect the facilities and to evaluate any U S WEST plans to improve the situation.
Roseburg and the surrounding area recently experienced several months of high levels of call blocking, prompting the Mercy Medical Center and the Sutherlin Police Department to complain that it was a potentially life-threatening situation.
In Roseburg, the Commission ordered the company to "immediately take whatever actions are necessary" to ensure that the hospital receive the voice and data phone service it needs. The Commission also required the company to complete alterations to its Roseburg central office switch to provide adequate capacity. The company was ordered to increase the number of circuits between Roseburg, Sutherlin, and Winston in order to provide the level of service required in Commission rules.
Like Roseburg, Grants Pass is served by an older analog switch, one of 13 still in operation in Oregon, all in U S WEST’s territory. U S WEST requested and received $14 million in accelerated depreciation from the Commission so the switches could be replaced by 2000. However, the company has replaced only two, both in the Portland area, and will not replace any of the others by the end of 2000.
Commissioners said they were convinced timely replacement of the analog switches in both Roseburg and Grants Pass could have prevented current problems.
"If they had replaced the old switches with new digital technology as they said they would, it’s doubtful the communities would have a problem," said Ron Eachus, Commission Chairman. "When you put in a new switch it is reasonable to assume you also will include additional future capacity. Plus, upgrading a digital switch is a lot faster than upgrading a labor intensive analog switch."
"The problem is that when they don’t put in the new digital switch as planned, they have to spend money to upgrade the old analog switch and that in turn delays installation of a new digital switch even more," said Commissioner Roger Hamilton. "In the longer run, this is a penny wise, pound foolish approach."
Despite the company’s efforts to improve the Roseburg switch, the Commission continues to receive "circuits busy" complaints for the area.
In March, the Commission opened an investigation into why U S WEST has not replaced the remaining analog switches as it planned to do earlier.
Also last month, the Commission opened an investigation into the company’s 1998 and 1999 construction budgets after determining that other uncompleted projects in the 1998 budget also could have prevented the problems cited in the Roseburg area and elsewhere in the state.
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