Idaho Public Utilities Commission
Case No. GNR-T-12-03, Order No. 32548
May 17, 2012
Contact: Gene Fadness (208) 334-0339, 890-2712
Changes proposed to telephone customer service rules
Idaho telephone companies and staff from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission are proposing changes to a state rule that requires regulated landline telecommunications providers to restore outages within certain time frames and provide billing credits to customers when they fail to do so.
In an earlier case filed last January, CenturyLink (formerly Qwest and also doing business as CenturyTel of the Gem State and CenturyTel of Idaho) asked the PUC to be exempted from a commission rule that requires regulated telephone companies to restore outages within 24 hours unless the outage occurs on a weekend. If the company fails to restore service within the rule’s time frames, it must credit customers an amount equal to the rate for one month of basic local exchange service. There are exemptions from the rule if outages are caused by circumstances beyond the company’s control, such as a natural disaster or a when a customer causes the outage or does not make a reasonable effort to arrange a repair visit.
The rule, adopted in 1993, made sense when basic landline service from one provider was all that was available to customers, CenturyLink claims. “Today, however, a substantial majority of basic local service customers are not cut off from communication and are not out-of-service in the event their wireline telephone is not working.” According to the Federal Communications Commission, wireless services were available at between 80 and 90 percent of populated areas in 2009. The FCC identified 1,221,000 wireless connections in Idaho during 2009, while the 2009 census recorded only 647,502 housing units, according to CenturyLink.
Further, CenturyLink claims, the unregulated wireless providers are not subject to the commission’s service performance rules, giving them an economic advantage over CenturyLink. The company claims its workers are taking time to restore landline service to meet the rule’s requirements instead of installing broadband service, which is more important to many customers than landline connections. Competitors are able to fill high-speed Internet service orders more quickly as a result.
Commission staff did not favor complete exemption from the rule because of its concern about customers who do not have access or subscribe to wireless and/or broadband services.
CenturyLink, joined by Frontier Communications Northwest, Citizens Telecommunications Company of Idaho, TDS Telecommunications Corp and the Idaho Telecom Alliance, and commission staff conducted settlement negotiations and are proposing a compromise that extends the response time to 48 hours during the week and removes the requirement that customers receive a billing credit if the new timeframes are not met. The same exemptions for natural disaster and customer-caused circumstances would also still apply. The proposed rule would also require that at least 80 percent of out-of-service trouble reports be cleared each month within the specified time frames.
CenturyLink claims it already has incentive to meet customer needs because of increased competition. Customers “need not bother to complain to the commission since they can simply disconnect their service and move to a wireless or cable option,” CenturyLink states. “From an economic and business perspective, losing a customer to a competitor is a considerably more serious setback than reporting a standard violation or even paying a customer credit.”
The commission is taking comment on the proposed settlement through May 31. Comments are accepted via e-mail by accessing the commission’s homepage at www.puc.idaho.gov and clicking on "Comments & Questions About a Case." Fill in the case number (GNR-T-12-03) and enter your comments. Comments can also be mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074 or faxed to (208) 334-3762.
A full text of the commission’s order, along with other documents related to this case, is available on the commission’s Web site. Click on “File Room” and then on “Telecommunications Cases” and scroll down to the above case number.