Phone firms lock horns

GCI or ACS - It's your call

Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002

Juneau residents have had a choice in local phone service since spring. But officials from General Communication Inc., the new provider on the block, believe competition has been hindered because its customers are having difficulty getting phone service installed through Alaska Communications Systems.

GCI leases part of ACS's local network as a result of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was passed by Congress to increase competition in the telecommunications industry and secure lower prices and better service for consumers.

Doug Harris, who moved to town in mid-August, tried to set up local phone service in early September. Local phone service refers to calls that are not long distance.

"We called GCI first because they offered inexpensive Internet service, and they said it would take four weeks to set up," Harris said. "The operator actually recommended that we go to ACS for local service, because she said it would take too long (with GCI)."

Harris signed up for a "bundle" from ACS, which provided several features such as call waiting and at the time included a free phone, and said he had a dial tone before he even got home from the ACS office.

The question of who is responsible for GCI's delays in setting up local phone service is the subject of a hearing to be held by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska today in Anchorage.GCI said the type of service received by Harris has been typical since the company began offering local service in Juneau. In September, GCI filed a complaint with the RCA that resulted in today's hearing.

Both companies believe they offer competitive local calling plans, although some residents may not be patient enough to wait for GCI's installation.

Rhonda Snyder decided in early August to sign up for GCI local service as a way to combine her phone and cable bills. She was moving from the Mendenhall Valley to Lemon Creek, and signed up for service from GCI on Aug. 13.

"GCI said it would take about two weeks to set up the service, because they had to rent everything from ACS, so I said no problem," Snyder said. She was planning to move at the end of August.

"By the end of the month (August), though, I still didn't have service in my new place," she said.

GCI told Snyder the delay was because ACS could not find her new address, Snyder said.

She talked to three operators at ACS before an operator was able to solve the problem, which was the result of a change in the way ACS divided the Juneau area, Snyder said.

Before ACS could hook up the local connection, though, the company needed GCI to provide a legal description of the home, Snyder said. Frustrated with going back and forth between the two companies, Snyder switched back to ACS and had local phone service in her new home the day after she switched.

At the suggestion of a GCI supervisor, she filed a complaint in September with the RCA, the state agency that regulates the cost and quality of utility services in Alaska.

"The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires ACS to treat GCI customers just like their own," said Dana Tindall, senior vice president of legal, regulatory and governmental affairs for GCI. "GCI customers have had to wait up to six weeks (to set up phone service). For an ACS customer the exact same service can be as short as an hour."

ACS Vice President Mary Ann Pease said ACS never has hindered competition.

"We have the same backlog for ACS customers as we do for GCI, and we have equal treatment for our customers and GCI customers," Pease said.

"There are things GCI could have done ... that would have made this transition much smoother. But GCI didn't want to pay for them," she said.

The RCA has received several complaints against GCI and ACS since GCI entered the Juneau local service market, said Agnes Pitts, RCA chief of consumer protection and public information.

"The complaints have to do with delays for customers either getting new service, moving locations or changing existing service," Pitts said. "... There are things that both companies are doing that contribute to the delays."

According to the RCA order opening the investigation of GCI's complaint, the RCA had received 246 complaints from the Anchorage area, Fairbanks and Juneau involving delays in providing service as of Sept. 16, 2002. Most complaints were from GCI customers.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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