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Hold, Please

US West plugs into the state legislature.

But even before that, the PUC may consider the request by Archibold, et al., that the commission go to court to secure the punishment US West truly deserves. At last week's hearing, the commissioners agreed to add to their March 1 agenda the possibility of discussing court action on US West's held orders and other service deficiencies.

"The Commission has addressed service quality issues numerous times over the past ten years, yet violations not only continue, they increase," Archibold, et al., note. "In each instance, a 'new remedy' is proposed and adopted. The number of violations in this proceeding is approximately 30 times the violations in Docket No. 94C-587T, commenced in November 1994. Even though approximately two-thirds of the violations in this proceeding address identical rules, the per violation 'reparation' assessment by the commission has plummeted from $2,000 per violation in Docket No. 94-C-587T, commenced in November 1994, to $151.26 per violation in this proceeding."

US West went to the February 24 meeting looking not just to pay less money in reparations, but for more time to get service for twenty people who'd been promised it long ago. "Extenuating circumstances," including construction problems or engineering challenges or right-of-way issues, made it too dang difficult for the phone company to comply with the PUC's instructions.

Details

Previous Westword articles

"A Perfect Ten"
February 24, 2000
The commandments according to thy Colorado Legislature.

Bad Connection
February 24, 2000
A collection of Westword stories detailing how US West became US Worst.

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As of last April, these accounts had already been waiting well over the 150 working days that US West is allowed in which to provide service. Some had been waiting over two years, and one of the twenty orders dated back to 1995. In its request for more time, US West pointed out that it can't dig into frozen ground to lay cables -- but that ground wasn't frozen in summer 1999, or summer 1998.

"The company has squandered almost two full construction seasons," protested the OCC in response. "USWC claims that there are no facilities because it is costly or difficult to provide them. Taking these justifications to their logical conclusion indicates that USWC has no real intention of deploying these facilities."

Rather than spend the last several years engaging in such obfuscation tactics as the "Customer Not Educated" ploy, in which customer-service reps were supposed to confuse their customers as much as possible and target more affluent areas for faster service, the company could have worked to get the entire state up to speed. Not all the held orders concern hunting cabins up on Guanella Pass: The complaints are just as loud in Highlands Ranch -- even if those residents have to borrow phones to make them.

The PUC commissioners got this message loud and clear. Enough time was enough, they told US West. It's time to give these twenty people service.

And as for the rest of Colorado? Yes, it's a "pain," PUC chairman Ray Gifford acknowledged. "But universal service is their obligation to fill."

Unless -- and until -- US West convinces legislators otherwise.

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