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US WEST telephone officials agree with Cache County mayors that rural residents are paying for services the company hasn't delivered.

But Robert Fuehr, vice president for communications in Utah, said complete rural phone service upgrades are still a ways off."It all boils down to economics," he said. Rural towns such as Hyrum and Richmond are not growing fast enough to justify the expense of state-of-the-art digital switching equipment.

US WEST on Feb. 22, just a day before the Public Service Commission held a public hearing on northern Utah telephone woes, announced it would upgrade switching equipment in Smithfield.

That upset some mayors, who worry a piecemeal approach to repairs and upgrades would create tension between communities.

"We are a close-knit family in this valley," said Richmond Mayor Derwin Merrill, president of the Cache Mayor's Association. "We felt it was goodwill suicide to announce one upgrade and not those in Richmond and Hyrum.

"Our biggest concern is that economic development can not move forward without a good communication system," he said.

Fuehr promised to increase personnel in the two cities, where antiquated equipment is blamed for problems ranging from lack of a dial tone to false rings and disconnects.

Fuehr said US West services 56,000 access lines in rural Utah. About 26,000 of them - including Smithfield's 4,000 - will be upgraded this year.

The Richmond station, which also services Cornish, Lewiston and Cove, grows by just 35 access lines a year. At that rate, Fuehr said, an upgrade is still a few years off.

The Hyrum station, which services Paradise, Avon, Wellsville and part of Nibley, grows by about 100 lines a year. It is possible that might justify an upgrade in 1993, "but that is not a commitment at this time," he said.

Fuehr urged the mayors to report all telephone complaints.

But Hyde Park Mayor Robert Balls said many residents stopped complaining when they were told that, if the problem was in their home phone, they'd be charged $60.

"A lot of families have a roomful of telephones and they still have lousy service," he said.