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News Release
Commission Seeks Compensation Plan
From U S WEST For Roseburg Residents

May 10, 1999 (1999-020)
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 staff will recommend acceptance of a U S WEST Communications, Inc. proposal to rely on the individual complaint process to compensate customers for poor service, provided the company makes it easy for customers to file complaints and offers a written commitment to provide a new digital switch by the end of 2000.
The staff made the proposal in a letter to U S WEST after the company told the Commission it would not provide blanket credits to all customers in the Roseburg area.
During an April 8 hearing in Roseburg, when the company agreed the problems were pervasive to the area, the Commission maintained its rules provided for billing credits to all customers and urged the company to develop a plan that did not rely on making individual customers file formal complaints.
Since then, the company announced it would replace the old analog switch with a digital switch next year, reversing previous statements that Roseburg would have to wait until at least 2003 before the replacement.
Then, in a May 6 reply to the Commission, the company denied any legal obligation to compensate customers and said it found a "blanket, indiscriminate refund" unappealing because it would be difficult to identify customers with substantial blockage problems and to quantify the amount of trouble.
But, the company said, "solely as a matter of accommodating customers," customers who have experienced substantial blockage problems should receive some sort of compensation but it would approach the problem on an individual basis.
U S WEST maintains that the existing tariff provides compensation only when there is a loss of local exchange service. The Commission, however, believes its rules on call blocking provide for billing credits and could be applied to all customers in the area since the problem was pervasive.
n a letter to U S WEST, the staff said it does not agree with the company’s assessment of its legal responsibility but it was encouraged by the company’s agreement to provide billing credits to customers who have experienced significant blockage problems.
The letter proposed that billing credits take into account the length of time that blockage occurred with one-month credits at a minimum to affected customers; that customers who have already filed informal as well as formal complaints be automatically included on the list of those to be compensated; and that those who have not filed a complaint be able to do so by filing a simple form.
"We’re disappointed U S WEST threw down the gauntlet on the legal issues and put the burden on the individual customer even though it admits the problems were pervasive," Commission Chairman Ron Eachus said. "But what the community really wants is adequate service and if it will put the switch in and make it easy for customers to file complaints, then maybe the staff proposal will work."
The staff compensation proposal is contingent on the company providing a written commitment to installing the digital switch, as pledged, in press announcements. "In the past, the company has often equivocated when pledging modernization," said Commissioner Roger Hamilton. "We want to make sure there’s a written commitment before we accept putting the burden for compensation on the customer."
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