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Toll-free calling OK’d for Uintah Basin

PSC says policy will be reviewed in 6 months

SHARE Toll-free calling OK’d for Uintah Basin

ROOSEVELT — The Public Service Commission will allow the implementation of a toll-free long-distance calling plan within Duchesne and Uintah counties, with some stipula- tions.

Extended area service (EAS) calling rates will be allowed to go forward as previously approved by the commission but will be reviewed six months after implementation to ensure the rates accurately represent the cost to customers.

The Utah Committee of Consumer Services had earlier argued against the PSC approval, which was announced June 13, and sought a review of their decision, claiming that among other concerns, the monthly EAS rates had been set too high.

The EAS "interim rates," as they are now called, are as follows: UBET exchanges Vernal, 80 cents; Roosevelt, $2.25; and Duchesne, $3.25. UBTA's seven telephone exchanges will be charged a monthly EAS rate of $5.75.

When basinwide calling is implemented in approximately three months, UBTA-UBET customers can place calls throughout the telephone company's service territory in Duchesne and Uintah counties and the east side of Wasatch County without a toll charge.

The rates were agreed to by the commission after the Division of Public Utilities worked with UBTA-UBET for more than 10 months to analyze 100 different cost scenarios based on calling traffic patterns. So far the entire process of obtaining the green light for basinwide calling has taken two years.

The announcement was good news for numerous UBTA-UBET customers, but was particularly welcomed by those who must pay long-distance charges for almost every local call they place.

UBTA customer Florence Ammon said she was furious when she heard the consumer committee had launched a protest against the PSC's approval of basinwide calling in the absence of a single complaint from Uinta Basin residents.

"I called the committee and I gave the number to everyone I knew and told them to do the same," she said. Ammon, like everyone in her 646 prefix, must pay long distance to call neighbors, friends, businesses and doctors.

The most debated accusation made by the committee was that a UBTA-UBET analysis predicting telephone usage would increase by a "stimulation factor" of eight once the minute-by-minute toll charges were eliminated was grossly exaggerated.

Committee director Roger Ball said a consultant hired by the consumer watchdog agency had determined that toll calls would climb by a factor of just three when the long-distance charge was dropped.

"Our concern was there was an absolutely gigantic glut in what the telephone company asked for and what the actual cost-based rates are," Ball said.

To address the committee's concerns that the established EAS rates would result in a financial windfall for the Roosevelt-based telephone company, the PSC modified their previous order. They instructed UBTA-UBET to provide telephone and network usage data within all of their telephone exchanges six months after basinwide toll-free calling begins.

The division will determine if UBTA-UBET is over-collecting on their interim rates by examining the spread between residential and business users, the allocation of costs among the exchanges, as well as the allocation of costs between EAS and other services such as high-speed Internet and interstate and intrastate toll calling.

"We note that the companies' own comments have represented that revenue neutrality was a goal of their proposal," states the recent PSC ruling. "By setting interim rates the commission can move the EAS approval forward and retain the ability to ensure the final rates will be both just and reasonable and revenue neutral."

UBTA-UBET General Manager Bruce H. Todd said the commission's modified ruling is reasonable and was done judiciously.

"We are grateful that the commission saw the need and listened to the customers' frustration that this process had gone on long enough. We always supported whatever steps were necessary in order to have all parties satisfied with the EAS being provided in the basin. We would prefer not to have the additional cost of the study, but feel this is a reasonable request by the commission," Todd said.

E-mail: state@desnews.com