Rural Residents, Seniors Fight Proposed Phone Changes

Restoring phone service may take longer in Idaho if Public Utility Commissioners decide to change the rules.  The local phone company typically has 24 hours to fix a land line.  If that doesn’t happen on time, the customer gets credited a month’s worth of service.  Now, phone companies want more time and to do away with the credit.

Mark Steele of Soda Springs says his 94 year old mother’s life depends on a land line.  She has an emergency button she pushes if she needs help.  That service is tied to her hard-wired phone.  The Idaho AARP says the elderly are more likely to have land lines especially in remote areas.

Josh Lunn, who owns a farm near Hammet, says cell phone service is spotty there so a land line is critical in an emergency, and when his irrigation pumps lose power.  "Using a telephone call to notify Idaho Power that our pumps are out is pretty critical so you don’t have your pumps down for a prolonged length of time," according to Lunn.

Steele and Lunn are among those who publicly commented on a plan to change rules for local phone companies.  The state Public Utilities Commission is considering allowing these providers 48 hours, sometimes more, to restore service that’s down, and doing away with a customer credit if work isn’t done on time.  None of those who commented support this idea. 

Linda Brown of Boise, for example, thinks a penalty is needed.  She says, "Most often we learn by the - not the carrot, but the stick - so if there’s no punishment attached to it there’s no incentive to get it done."  But Brown is just one of six people statewide who’ve spoken out against the changes. 

Century Link and other local phone companies claim cell phone and internet services are viable alternatives to land lines.  Idaho had more than 1.2 million wireless connections in 2009 according to the Federal Communications Commission.  That’s nearly twice the total number of homes and residences in the state according to Census data

Gene Fadness of the PUC says he understands there are customers that rely completely on land lines. "I guess you just kind of have to find the proper balance between protecting those customers without making unreasonable demands on the companies who serve about 98 percent of the rest of the customer base."

Fadness says the three Public Utility Commissioners will make a decision in the next few weeks.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio