At the end of November, 899 Utah homes and businesses were awaiting the installation of their primary telephones - the first phone, not a second line - after asking US WEST for it.

An exhibit that the company submitted to the Utah Public Service Commission adds that of these, 126 have been waiting for more than 60 days. A total of 477 had waited a month or longer (including the figure for two months).The exhibit, submitted during a PSC status conference on Tuesday, shows that another 538 were awaiting a telephone that was not the primary one.

While the delays can be painful to those needing a phone, US WEST pointed out that 94 percent got their telephones when they asked for them.

Trying to improve service, the PSC asked US WEST, the Division of Public Utilities and the Committee of Consumer Services to submit proposed formal standards on phone installation.

The proposed standards are to be in the hands of the commissioners by Feb. 10, said PSC chairman Stephen F. Mecham.

After that, the PSC will hold a formal hearing on the proposals, "and establish formal standards and hold the company accountable to those," he said.

Until now, no such standards have been in place, largely because the utility was able to get phones installed promptly. "There have been very few held orders up until the last two years," Mecham said.

"Clearly there have been some," during that time. But the "hold orders" - that is, delays in delivering services - weren't such a big problem until explosive growth hit US WEST at the same time as the company launched a major initiative to improve service.

While the "re-engineering" project closes small offices and opens larger centralized ones, response times is temporarily slowed.

"The trend is wrong and we've got to turn that around," Mecham said.

"It clearly is a problem and we can't allow it to go on, and frankly I think that the company here locally agrees with that."

US WEST understands that its present performance isn't adequate and has been cooperative with the PSC, he said.

"There's a pilot project going on, on quality of service." The project, reported recently in the Deseret News, offers financial assistance with using cellular phones, plus other options for those left without regular telephone service.

US WEST is formulating objectives about installing phones, he added. "That is precisely what I'm looking for," Mecham said.

After the hearing, the PSC will determine if the proposed standards are tough enough.

"I'm quite confident that this process we've set in motion is going to address the problem," the commission chairman added.

Duane Cooke, spokesman for US WEST, said that the company knows that in some respect service levels aren't where they need to be.

"We're taking steps in both the short term and the long term, to not only return service to customary levels but improve service. We are working cooperatively with regulators to set service standards based on valid customer requirements."

Cooke added that the vast majority of customers are receiving excellent service.

"Having said that, we acknowledge that there are problems and we're working to resolve those problems," he said.