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Rural gas-service bill OK’d; phone proposal on hold

SHARE Rural gas-service bill OK’d; phone proposal on hold

Help for rural Utah proved a selling point for one utility bill, but the pitch fell short when it came to US WEST's bid to pocket Yellow Pages money.

The angle worked for a bill that will require natural gas customers statewide to pay more to help fund extension of natural gas service to places like Panguitch.Questar Corp. customers will pay 32 cents more per year to bring gas to Panguitch - and possibly as much as $1.41 if other communities seek service. Rural residents will do their part by paying a $30 monthly surcharge.

As for US WEST, consider it strike two on the Yellow Pages issue.

The Utah Legislature let the 1998 session tick away without acting on a bill that would have given the company $30 million in directory revenue. If it had passed, Utahns' phone rates would have increased $2.25 a month over the next five years.

The bill would have let US WEST keep half the increase while diverting the other half - $45 million - to a fund the company would have used to provide advanced telephone services to rural areas and local governments.

Opponents said US WEST should be doing that any way as part of providing service in the state.

Strike one for US WEST came in December when the company failed to convince the Public Service Commission to give it the money.

It has appealed the commission's decision to the Utah Supreme Court, and Rep. Brent Haymond, R-Springville, said he'll ask the House Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee to tackle the topic.

Lawmakers will also spend a second year studying how and when Utah should deregulate the electrical industry. They defeated an attempt by Senate Majority Whip Leonard Blackham, R-Moroni, to circumvent the final year of the two-year study and go straight to deregulation. That's something the state's largest users of electricity wanted but which would likely raise the rates for residential and small-business consumers.

US WEST also had to kowtow on a bill that stiffens penalties for telephone companies that don't cooperate as competition unfolds and lets the Public Service Commission get involved in standoffs faster.