Regulators call on phone competitors to cooperate

Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

ANCHORAGE - State regulators are calling on the two top phone companies in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks to stop their feuding.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska on Monday ordered General Communication Inc. and Alaska Communications Systems to cooperate better, saying consumers have been victims in a dispute between the two companies.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska, a state agency that oversees utility rates and service, began an investigation this fall after a surge of customer complaints from Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks about delays in getting new phone service. At issue is how the two companies have been working together under a 1996 federal law that requires them to cooperate while they compete.

ACS is Alaska's dominant local phone company and owns most of the state's local phone lines. Federal law requires the company to lease its lines to competitors, who use them to provide service to their own customers. ACS also is required to wire buildings for new phone service.

The commission said Monday that GCI's customers are getting poorer service from ACS when they request new phone installations or changes in their existing accounts.

ACS customers who want service changes call the company directly. Their requests are entered into its computer system by a customer service representative, who verifies the information and sets a date for the service. The entire process takes only a few days.

But GCI customers sometimes have to wait weeks, they told the commission this fall. GCI customer orders are taken by a GCI customer service representative, who then submits them in bulk to ACS.

About 20 percent of the delays were a result of minor errors in things like the customer names and addresses in the GCI orders, the commission's report said.

"When the information didn't match up, orders were being rejected and bounced back to GCI," said Agnes Pitts, a commission spokeswoman.

To eliminate that problem, the commission ordered ACS, by Dec. 26, to give GCI direct electronic access to the databases and systems necessary for providing service.

The commission also said ACS must provide GCI customers with the same level of service under the same terms it provides its own customers when new wiring is required. The company also must provide monthly performance reports to ensure that the problems are not continuing, the RCA said.

Executives of GCI called the commission's ruling "a major victory for consumers and local telephone competition in Alaska," saying that it will help clear up a lot of confusion among consumers about what has been happening.

ACS downplayed the significance of the RCA's ruling.

"This really is a nonissue because almost all of these points are under arbitration," said ACS spokeswoman Mary Anne Pease.

The companies are in arbitration with the commission and are involved in lawsuits focusing specifically on quality of service and the rates GCI pays ACS to lease its phone lines.

In its ruling, the RCA said it issued the order as an interim solution to prevent customers from getting stuck in the middle.

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