ANCHORAGE - Consumers voiced their frustrations about phone service and Alaska's two largest phone companies offered clashing explanations at a hearing Tuesday before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
The commission, which enforces phone company regulations, is investigating customer complaints that it takes longer to get services from General Communication Inc. than from Alaska Communications Systems. Juneau customers are among those complaining about long hook-up delays.
A 1996 federal law requires the two companies to cooperate while they compete.
ACS is the state's dominant local phone company. It leaped to life in 1999 when it bought most of Alaska's local phone lines, including those in Anchorage, for $695 million.
In Anchorage, the seller was the city, which tried to make certain competitors could enter the market and go head to head with ACS, former Anchorage assemblyman John Wood testified Tuesday. Wood, who left the Assembly in 1993, worked to pass the sale.
GCI has grown to be the second- largest carrier in the state, all while using ACS services, noted ACS customer care director Ed Cushing at Tuesday's hearing. ACS is required to lease its line network to GCI and other phone companies. Because GCI uses ACS's system, it needs its rival's help to process orders, such as when a GCI customer moves.
RCA spokeswoman Agnes Pitts said the great majority of complaints about phone service relocation delays when customers move within town have been from frustrated GCI customers. GCI gets the installation dates from ACS, Pitts said.
GCI staff testified that ACS is not processing GCI orders as quickly as ACS orders, as is required under the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
"ACS is breaking the law," GCI Senior Vice President Dana Tindall told the Anchorage Daily News.
ACS Vice President Mary Anne Pease said her company does not discriminate. She said a backlog of GCI requests occurred when ACS raised its rates last fall and a swell of customers requested switching to GCI, but ACS has eliminated that backlog.
Pease said problems between the two companies come from uneven cost burdens.
"One company is being asked to subsidize the other," Pease said.
The state requires ACS to lease its lines to competitors at such low rates that ACS loses money and competitors profit, she said.