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A $20 million fiber optic project linking the Richfield area with St. George and Provo is planned by US WEST Communications.

Mechanical switching systems will also be replaced with digital technology, local government officials and area business representatives were told at a recent hearing of the Utah Public Service Commission in Richfield.The hearing examined the status of telephone service and determined the need for developing service standards. Complaints about inadequate telephone service were voiced, but local US WEST personnel were praised for their efforts in keeping the present system in operation.

The announced project may quiet complaints that equipment is outdated, but it won't get under way soon. In fact, it probably won't get off the launching pad until 1993, according to information previously received by Richfield City officials from US WEST.

"Richfield's service is poor, Salina's is worse and Monroe's is terrible," said Newell Halesat the hearing. He also complained that his company's fax machines "lock up and our modems on computers have problems because of static on the lines."

Commission members were told telephone service in the area is substandard. But US WEST spokesman Gary Harrison said his company is not opposed to the idea of reasonable service standards, noting that internal standards and reports to help monitor service quality are in use.

"We believe, however, customers are the best judges of our service. We constantly measure service quality through independently conducted customer surveys," Harrison said.

While admitting there is room for improvement, he said, "overall, Utah customers give us good marks for providing quality service."

Richfield City Administrator Woody Farnsworth outlined several complaints of city officials. These included the time required to get a call through, interruption while dialing a number, busy signals at times when a line is not in use, a high pitch noise on telephone lines, and calls being cut off during a conversation.

"Economic development is a major effort right now in this area, and if telephone service isn't as good as it is technically possible to have, we have two strikes against us right off," Farnsworth said.

Efficient telephone service is a requirement and should be a priority with US WEST, he added.

Commissioners were told that a written statement would be sent to the PSC from the city, detailing complaints and desires for improved telephone service. The city manager said local company personnel have gone "beyond the call of duty" in responding to problems, however.

US WEST takes service quality seriously and is committed to improving telephone service in the Richfield area and throughout the state, said Ted Smith, the utility's chief counsel. Although the company is making significant progress toward improvements through the $20 million project, "we can't make any firm commitments until funding is secured," he said.